IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER FOUND IN MADISON PARISH
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BIRD EXPERT "DISCOVERS" RARE BIRD IN MADISON
By James Bushong, in the New Orleans item
Madison Journal June 3, 1932
Dr. T. Gilbert Pearson, an eminent ornithologist, returned to his New York home recently after a trip into the Tensas swamps of Madison parish, happy in the realization of a life-long ambition. He had seen alive and in its native habitat—an ivory-billed woodpecker.
Now there are some folks to whom this sight would be poor compensation for a trip clear from New York, but to Dr. Pearson, who incidentally is president of the National Audubon association and who knows a thing or two about birds, it meant the successful termination of a 42-year search, a search that had taken him into many out of the way places, including such pleasant spots as the Great Dismal swamps of South Carolina.
It all came about in this fashion.
A month or two ago, Mason Spencer, member of the House of Representatives from Madison parish, was out hunting and chanced to shoot one of these woodpeckers. Mr. Spencer had long known the Tensas swamps were the home of the ivory-billed woodpecker but what he didn't know or realize was how rare the bird was. However, after killing the bird, he had it mounted and presented to the Wild Life Division of the Louisiana Conservation department.
Immediately things began to happen. For ornithologists had begun to think the ivory-billed woodpecker was extinct. Armand Daspit, director of the wild life division, after being assured by Mr. Spencer that there were more where the stuffed bird had come from, sent word of the discovery to Dr. Pearson in New York.
Shortly afterward, in reply to that message, Dr. Pearson arrived in Baton Rouge and the expedition into the Tensas swamps was begun. Guided by Mr. Spencer and accompanied by Mr. Daspit, the ornithologist was taken deep into the swamps to the place where Mr. Spencer had last seen the rare bird. And there in a clump of bushes and marsh grass the doctor crouched and thrilled to the sight of his first live ivory-billed woodpecker.
Back in Baton Rouge a few days later he was very enthusiastic about the expedition. Especially pleased was he with the promise of the conservation department that no permits would be issued for trapping or killing of these rare fowls.
"It was something I had wanted to see for 42 years," he said. "The bird is so rare that ornithologists had begun to believe it extinct. The last one was reported years ago in Florida."
The bird, because of its rareness is very valuable,
he said, a single one being worth about $1,000.
Madison Parish Shelters Rare Birds
Worth $1,000 Each; Found by Spencer
Madison Journal July 29, 1932
One of the rarest birds in the United States, the largest and most magnificent of the woodpeckers the Ivory-Billed, is to be found in Madison Parish. Ornithologists had begun to think that the bird was extinct, so much so that one is worth a thousand dollars.
The existence of the bird became known to ornithologists when Mason Spencer, local attorney, who is president of the Madison National Bank of Tallulah and member of the state house of representatives, informed conservation officials that a colony existed in the parish on the 80,000 acre Singer Wild Life Preserve. Doubt existed until Mr. Spencer killed one and sent it to the department of conservation in New Orleans where it is on exhibit.
It was through Mr. Spencer's knowledge of wild life that—the colony became known. He is an enthusiastic conservationist and was unaware of how rare the bird was as he has known since boyhood that the particular bird lived in the parish. He said this week that he had observed them lots of times.
He says that at least twelve and probably twenty of the birds are in the Madison Parish colony. He has found that the number has not increased noticeably during the time he has known of the birds.
Mr. Spencer would not kill one until he was given a permit from the department of conservation. The permit gave him the right to kill two but only one was killed and he had it mounted and presented to the wild life division of the department in April of this year.
Makes Trip From New York
Dr. T. Gilbert Pearson, an eminent ornithologist, made a trip to Louisiana from New York in May and realized a life-long ambition when he saw alive and in its native habitat—the bird that he searched for during the last 42 years. He has gone to many places including the pleasant spots of the Great Dismal Swamps of South Carolina. Correspondence tells how interested the bird authority was from the start. Armand Daspit, director of the wild life division, after being assured by Mr. Spencer that there more where the stuffed bird had come from, sent word of the discovery to Dr. Pearson in New York. Dr. Pearson in a letter explained that the bird was on the verge of extinction and requested that the officials take steps to protect the birds. At present an agent is has been designated by the department to look after the particular colony. Permits for trapping or killing of this bird will not be issued.
Watch Bird in Habitat
On May 11, Dr. Pearson who is president of the National Association of Audubon Societies (For the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals), and Earnest G. Holt, director of Sanctuaries for the Audubon Societies, arrived in New Orleans and went with conservation officials to view the specimen. The expedition to the home of the bird colony started immediately. The party spent one week traversing the innermost forest of the region inhabited by a small colony. Mr. Daspit accompanied Dr. Pearson and was guided to the secluded spot by Mr. Spencer. They watched from a distance of 75 to 100 feet. The birds were feeding on stumps of rotting trees, the tops of which had been broken off. A favorite place for feeding is also on dead limbs at or near the tops of the very tall sweet gum trees found abundantly in this region.
Formerly it could be found throughout the southern states eastward to lower Florida, westward to the Mississippi valley and up to the mouth of the Ohio. The bird has disappeared since the heavy forests have been cut. The last one reported to have been seen was by an ornithologist six or eight years ago in Florida. The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker could not stand man and his civilized ways.
Audubon writes that the bird flies in a curved line but Mr. Spencer observed that the bird flies in a straight line in the manner of a wild duck.
Two other birds that are not so numerous, and found in the parish are the American and Snowy Egrets, says Mr. Spencer. The largest known heronry of the Snowy Egret is at Avery Island, Iberia Parish. Women's demand for the bird’s feathers that number about 50 long, filmy plumes led to the passing of stringent law for protection of the birds that were "cursed with beauty." Other rare birds in the state are the Roseate Spoonbill and the Whooping Crane.
The chief of the woodpeckers is the big, handsome Ivory-Billed, big as a crow, shy and retiring, lover of the deep cypress solitudes, a bird of astonishing strength and vigor, with a bill resembling a shining ivory dagger almost three inches long, and flaming blood-red crest setting off its black and white body plumage.
The bill is longer than the head. It has a scarlet white line starting under the eye and running down the sides of the neck. The female has a wholly black crest. In both there is a great deal of white on the wings. The birds are large, being about 21 inches in length.
Audubon Writes of It
"The flight of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is graceful in the extreme," Audubon writes in his ornithological biographies, "although seldom prolonged to more than a few hundred yards at a time, unless when it has to cross a wide river, which it does in deep undulations, opening its wings to their full extent, and nearly closing them to renew the propelling impulse. The transit from one tree to another, even should the distance be as much as a hundred yards is performed with a single sweep, and the bird appears as if merely swinging itself from the top of one tree to that of another, forming an elegant curved line. At this moment all the beauty of plumage is exhibited and strikes the beholder with pleasure. It never utters any sound whilst on the wing, unless during the love season, but at all other times, no sooner has this bird alighted than its remarkable voice is heard, at almost every leap which it makes, while ascending against the upper parts of the trunk of a tree, or its highest branches.
"Its notes are clear, loud and yet rather plaintive. They are heard at a considerable distance, perhaps half a mile, and resemble the false high note of the clarinet and are usually repeated three times in succession, and may be represented by the monosyllable, `pait, pait, pait.' "
Pair Seen in Franklin Parish
In 1899 Professor George E. Beyer discovered a nesting pair of these birds in an almost inaccessible swamp in Franklin Parish, which extends from the northern parish line between the Tensas river and Bayou Macon to the Black river. "The borders of Big Lake, in the midst of a heavy cypress swamp, as well as the banks of some of the larger cross bayous, are heavily timbered with ash, oak and elm. In some of such localities are the homes of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker," recorded Prof. Beyer, "and from them they do not appear to stray very far, in fact I was assured that the range of a pair of these birds does not extend more than a mile from their nest. We could hear quite frequently the rather plaintive but loud cry of the ‘Log-God,’ (Lord God) for such the bird is called in that section of the state. They are certainly noisy and by their oft-repeated cries we became accustomed to locating them.