In the spring of 1926, Benjamin Tucker, a banker and philanthropist from Long Beach and his wife Dorothy May built a second home on 12 acres of land that was once part of the estate of the world famous actress, Helena Modjeska. They soon fell in love with the flora and fauna of their beautiful canyon home, (named “Oakwood” by Dorothy) particularly the hummingbirds. Mr. Tucker began taking steps to increase the hummingbird population around their secluded home. Mr. Tucker focused on encouraging the hummingbirds to stay year-round instead of just the few weeks they spent resting here during their annual migration. For his first attempt he tied colorful ribbons to test tubes filled with pure honey and attached them to the trees, but bees and ants drove the hummingbirds off. After a time, he found four parts water to one part sugar to be the right food mixture. Trial and error brought unsuccessful versions of hummingbird feeders in the form of small mason jars covered with perforated tin tops, a quart jar, and a feeder fashioned from a gourd. Soon, Mr. Tucker found success with long-necked flasks and chicken feeders. Mr. Tucker was the first person to utilize multiple ports on a hummingbird feeder and is recognized as a father of modern day feeders.
At first, he was able to entice a few hummingbirds to say year-round. After a couple of years hummingbirds began to arrive by the dozens and then the hundreds. Word spread as local newspapers and magazines of the times such as Western Living featured stories about the famous “hummingbird cafeteria”. By 1929, people began dropping by to see the hummingbirds so the Tuckers decided to open their porch as a public bird viewing area. The Tuckers remained an integral part of the new sanctuary with Dorothy entertaining guests and Mr. Tucker feeding birds and tinkering in his workshop. In addition to feeding hummingbirds, Mr. Tucker built birdhouses and put out grain for the songbirds. Each year, the Tuckers went through a thousand pounds of sugar and two tons of grain for the large variety of birds who were now using Oakwood as a home or a stopover site on their migration.
Mr. Tucker worked closely with the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Audubon Society to gather data on the birds at the sanctuary. He continued to work at the sanctuary long past its official dedication as a “Bird Preserve” by Audubon in May of 1939, just a few months before Mrs. Tucker’s passing. In July of 1940, a fire broke out in Mr. Tucker’s workshop completely destroying the shop and home. Health reasons prevented Mr. Tucker from rebuilding so in 1941 he presented the land to the California Audubon Society as a memorial to his wife. The Audubon Society rebuilt the house on the original site and ran the Dorothy May Tucker Sanctuary until 1969 when the property was deeded to a foundation sponsored by California State University, Fullerton.
The Environmental Nature Center (ENC) acquired Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in 2021. The ENC will steward the facility and provide opportunities similar to those at the ENC – field trips for school and scout groups, Nature Camps, service learning, community programs, and more.
“We are committed to Benjamin and Dorothy Tucker’s legacy and excited for this opportunity,” said Bo Glover, Executive Director of the Environmental Nature Center. “The Tuckers wanted their property to be conserved as a wild bird sanctuary, refuge and preserve, and that is how we will manage it. We look forward to welcoming students and other visitors interested in learning about and enjoying the canyon’s native flora and fauna.”
In 1888, world-renowned Shakespearean actress Madame Helena Modjeska purchased 1340 acres in what came to be known as Modjeska Canyon. She hired famed architect Stanford White to design her new home, and named Arden for the forest setting in Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It”. The house became a gathering place for artists, writers, singers, and actors, both local and international. The centerpiece of the house was the large paneled library with space for her extensive collection of theater memorabilia, books, and works of art. She planted gardens, olive and citrus groves, raised horses, cattle, and farm crops, and maintained a large apiary. In her autobiography, Madame Modjeska wrote, “All our improvements had for their main object not to spoil what nature had provided…It was really a very peaceful retreat, far from the turmoil of the world”. For more information about Arden or to visit Madame Modjeska’s home, visit: http://www.ocparks.com/modjeskahouse/