Preserving Our Natural State Since 1977

The Delaware Audubon Conservation Award
2004 - Warren Lauder

PLEASE NOTE: This is an archive article from 2004. It was accurate at the time it was written, but may now be out of date.

Warren Lauder has been selected for this year's Delaware Audubon Conservation Award. The award was presented at the Annual Dinner of the Delaware Audubon Society on May 10, 2004.

Image: Warren Lauder
Warren Lauder
showing his bluebird box design

Best known for his work with Bluebirds, he is a man of many talents. Lauder retired from DuPont in 1985, and though well into his retirement years, "he always has a project going on," according to a friend.

One such project is his interest in Chestnut trees. "About 1900, the blight began killing the American Chestnut trees. By 1935-1940, there wasn't a single living Chestnut tree in America." Hence Lauder's pride in the four blight-resistant Chestnut trees in his front yard. At Longwood Gardens, he added a grove of 350 Chestnut trees "which are flourishing," and a few trees at the Crosslands retirement community. Another interest, antique apples, blossomed with the approach of the U.S. Bicentennial. In honor of that historic event, he grafted 76 varieties.

His fascination with birds and nature began during his childhood on an old farm in New York State. In those days, Lauder reminisces, most people baked their own bread. Baking-powder boxes included, as a premium, little cards featuring different bird species. His mother gave him the cards because he was the "outdoor kid." He sought to find and study these birds in their natural habitat -- from the familiar Bluebird of the farm on which he then lived to the exotic Scissor-tailed Flycatcher which he would see years later in Texas. He "never lost interest in searching for the birds on the cards," though the cards became well-worn and were subsequently misplaced.

Around 1960, Lauder learned his Bluebirds of childhood memory were nearly extinct. "I was shocked! I couldn't believe it. My favorite bird extinct! I determined right there that I was going to try every possible way to reverse the situation." Inspiration came in the form of a brief magazine article about a man in the Adirondacks making Bluebird nest boxes.

"Way back when I got started with Bluebirds, very few people knew anything about them," says Lauder. " I got in touch with that man up in the Adirondacks, who helped me get started." The nest box was crude by today's standards, and Lauder was convinced there was a better way. A sympathetic co-worker in the DuPont engineering department, according to Lauder, told him to "bring it in and let's see what we can do to improve it -- so we did." Almost 43 years later, Lauder is still finding ways to make improvements.

Peggy Jahn, Delaware Audubon's Nest Box Project Chair, can attest to the efficacy of Lauder's design, which has proven itself time and again under field conditions. Peggy Jahn's husband, Fred, first met Warren Lauder back in their DuPont days. When the Jahns lived in Maine, they placed a stack of Lauder's instruction sheets at the public library there. The plans "went like hotcakes," says Peggy Jahn, so Lauder's nest box "has a presence in the Northeast." Known locations, in fact, criss-cross the continent: In the U.S. from Maine to California; in Canada from Nova Scotia to as far as Alberta; and from Hudson Bay down to the American Southwest.

Frances Hamilton, another associate, worked as a reporter and editor at the Wilmington paper for 27 years, and for 32 years wrote a column there. A resident of Chester County since 1967, Hamilton has written from time to time about Lauder in her weekly column for the Avon Grove Sun, resulting in thousands of requests for nest-box plans. Apart from such local publicity, Lauder's efforts have also been recognized on a national level in Audubon magazine and in a gardening magazine.

Over the past thirty years, Warren Lauder has given hundreds of lectures and helped maintain a number of Bluebird trails in an effort "to move the Bluebirds safely away from that awful brink of extinction." He has done this by heeding the gentle call of the Bluebird and answering with a life of service.

Past recipients of the Delaware Audubon Society Conservation Award are Peggy Jahn, Lynne Frink, Gwynne Smith, Rick West, Jacob Kreshtool, Til Purnell, Don Sharpe, Barbara Lundberg, Leah Roedel, Ruth Ann Minner, Joseph Biden, Winston Wayne, Russell Peterson, Grace Pierce-Beck, Dorothy Miller, Edward W. Cooch, Jr., Lynn Williams, Thomas Sharp, Ann Rydgren and Albert Matlack.