T. Gilbert Pearson (1873-1943) was one of the most influential ornithologists in North America, crusading for the cause of conservation a century before the modern movement to save the earth's resources.
Working in the American Ornithologists' Union, Pearson and other pioneering conservationists radically altered public attitudes toward birds, lobbied laws through state legislatures, and involved the national government in bird protection. Their activities, documented in this biography of Pearson's early career, spearheaded the movement that eventually led to today's Audubon societies.
As a boy in rural Florida, Pearson was an avid--even obsessive--"egger." On a particularly lucrative day in 1889 he gathered eggs from the nests of a hawk, flicker, mockingbird, grackle, and ground dove and was only momentarily stymied by the discovery of five eggs in a crow's nest located high in a 100-foot pine tree. "Putting three of the eggs in my mouth and taking two in my hand, I descended without mishap," he reported.
His love for birds grew in company with an increasing alarm at the extent to which they were killed, not just for sport but for decorating hats, too. In 1892, in college in North Carolina, he participated in a student oratory contest in which he described the cruelties of plume hunting, concluding, "O fashion! how many crimes are done in thy name!"
After joining the AOU in 1891, Pearson organized efforts to protect birds that were vulnerable to commercial exploitation and unregulated hunting. In 1902 he founded the Audubon Society of North Carolina, the South's first state agency for wildlife. By 1911, the year this account ends, Pearson had become the first full-time leader of the National Association of Audubon Societies. He continued his work with the national organization until 1934, helping to build the association into the strong international force for conservation that it is today.
Oliver Orr is a retired specialist in American history, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, and a long-time member of the National Audubon Society. He is the author of Charles Brantley Aycock and coauthor of A Guide to the Study of the United States of America.