NBS Blog

A Peek Inside Mabel’s Book Collection

Learn more about and explore a few pages from Mabel Norman Cerio’s very own copy of American Land Birds by Alice E. Ball.

This week, explore a few pages from Mabel Norman Cerio’s very own copy of American Land Birds by Alice E. Ball. A passionate ornithologist, naturalist, and educator, Alice E. (Eliza) Ball wrote at least four books on birds throughout her life, weaving practical guidebook knowledge with her own poetry and the beautiful, full-color illustrations of her frequent

collaborator, Robert Bruce Horsfall. Ball was born in northern Ohio in 1867, and died in New York City in 1948, her decades of ornithological curiosity and creative work closely paralleling Mabel’s (Mabel was born in 1876 and died in 1949). Although the two did not meet, it is exciting to imagine one budding female naturalist learning from another in the early 20th century. 

A copy of the first edition of Ball’s book, published in 1936, was gifted to Mabel by her friends, Mina and Hector, in 1939. In their inscription, Mina and Hector wrote “To our beloved Mrs. George Cerio, with lots of love. From, Mina and Hector. New York, October 11th, 1939.” At the time of receipt, Mabel and her husband George were splitting their time between their home on the Isle of Capri, Italy and Paradise Farm in Middletown, World War II having begun just a month prior.

American Land Birds offers a detailed study of 47 North American birds, organized seasonally from Winter to Late Spring. Accompanying Ball’s spirited observations on the habitats, features, and songs of each bird are the richly colored illustrations of Robert Bruce Horsfall, a prolific wildlife illustrator through the early 20th century.

In the selected pages below, you may notice a few birds often spotted here at the Sanctuary, including the Bobolink and Bluebird. Ball also offers insight into the contemporary conservation efforts of the time, which may have been of particular interest to Mabel as she began researching how to establish a bird sanctuary in the early 1900s. 

A profound lover of birds, Mabel certainly may have consulted American Land Birds while exploring the grounds of and birding on her Middletown property, which would later become the Norman Bird Sanctuary through a bequest. Mabel’s copy of this book has lived in the Sanctuary’s collection since the organization’s inception in 1949 and reminds us of Mabel’s deep curiosity and appreciation for birds and their habitats.

Left: Photograph of a bird house installation on the Paradise Farmhouse lawn while Mabel was living on the property. Undated, but likely taken in the early 1940s. Donated by Lori Lorillard. 


Note: Alice Eliza Ball photograph, Credit: New England Ball Project, Barbara Samans.

Thanks to generous volunteer support, we are working to make our book collection accessible to the public online!

Have questions or interested in checking out a book in person? Connect with our Research & Collections Coordinator, Anna Turner, at aturner@normanbirdsanctuary.org.