Manatee County Audubon Society was incorporated in 1986, and today has hundreds of passionate birdwatchers as members.
Formation of the Initial Organization
On November 29, 1950, several members of the Florida Audubon Society, who lived in Manatee County, held a meeting at the Bradenton Garden Center for the purpose of organizing a club for the “study and protection of birds and the furtherance of conservation work in the area.”
Eleven members and prospective members were present. Mrs. W. H. Risley was elected president; Col. Kevin O’Shea, vice president, and Allen S. Hitchen, secretary-treasurer. A program was established for formal meetings to start in January 1951. The organization was named the Manatee County Bird and Conservation Club, a branch of the Florida Audubon Society.
On December 27, 1950, seven members of the new club participated in the Christmas Bird Count at Myakka State Park: 82 species and 7,567 individuals were counted. The new organization grew rapidly. At the first meeting in January 1951, there were applications for 48 new members. At first, meetings were only for members, but later in the year they were open to the public.
The slogan “every member bring a member” soon brought the membership up to 53. No dues were charged, but a “free will” collection was taken at the meetings. A group of 29 members and friends gave the Conservation pledge at the first meeting of 1952, although no description of the pledge can be found. In September 1952, the name was changed to the Manatee County Audubon Society.
In recent years, Manatee Audubon was blessed with the gift of what is now known as Felts Audubon Preserve. Operating for many years as a family-run dairy ranch, the land is now protected in perpetuity thanks to the stalwart conservation efforts in the early 2000s of Barbara Singer (then president of the Manatee County Audubon Society of the National Audubon Society), Steve Black & Tom Heitzman (also past presidents of Manatee Audubon), the various Felts Land Use committee members, and other dedicated volunteers.
Felts Audubon Preserve is open 365 days a year for Manatee Audubon members. Trained Manatee Audubon naturalists host visitors and school children during key event days so they can also explore and learn more about birds, wildlife, habitats, and conservation.
In the fall and spring, Manatee Audubon is working to host its well-regarded nature education programs at Felts Preserve, serving hundreds of elementary school children every year.
During the spring, fall and winter, the preserve is open to visitors the first Saturday of each month (Oct – April).