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Original Issue


While the rest of his species went to Mexico for the winter this tough bird flew East to startle jays and ornithologists in Ossining, N.Y.

One afternoon last month a lawyer named Gerard Swope Jr., who was incarcerated in his Ossining, N.Y. home with a bad cold, ceased his disconsolate snuffling and peered out his bedroom window with eyes narrowed like an FBI man spotting trouble at his own savings bank. Swope, a bird lover, keeps covered feeding platforms stocked with suet, apples, sunflower seed, cracked corn and other such dainties in his front yard, and he had become conscious that some feathered intruder was chasing the blue jays away from this smorgasbord. Since jays comprise the Purple Gang of the bird world, it seemed obvious that a veritable Dillinger must have arrived.


Swope grabbed his binoculars and discovered a dark, sharp-beaked intruder, which was about the same size as the jays but completely foreign in appearance. He was shiny black on top, had pinkish cheeks, a pinkish lower belly and a gray collar. Staring harder, Swope noted that his wings were a deep, dark velvety green. He called his wife and they began flipping through reference books on Eastern birds. But R & I, as it were, had nothing on the tough new peckerwood. Finally, however, they found a mug shot of him in a tome on Western birds. The pecker-wood was, in fact, a woodpecker—a Lewis's Woodpecker, named for Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition, who first reported it on his return from the West in 1806.

Reading further, the Swopes concluded that their visitor was an astoundingly long distance from home—Lewis's Woodpeckers usually winter in northwestern Mexico. They breed in Arizona, New Mexico and southern California, sometimes fly as far north as southern Alberta and British Columbia, but are strictly Western hombres. What was Lewis's (Tough Looie) Woodpecker doing in Ossining? Sing Sing Prison, after all, was only a mile or so away. Mulling the problem, the Swopes called the National Audubon Society, which quickly despatched a task force of experts, among them Bird Watcher John Kieran, the sage of "Information Please."


This group quickly confirmed the Swopes' identification, and goggled in genuine astonishment at the bird. Only one other—a specimen which was knocked off by a boy hunter 20 years ago in Rhode Island—had ever been reported in the East. "This," said Kieran, "is really something. In fact, it is the very rarest bird I have ever seen in the East."

The woodpecker paid little heed to the fact that he was being given the old line-up treatment. Nobody could guess as to how he had gotten so far from home, but that didn't seem to bother him either—he simply moved into the feeding station and began living there. All other birds were excluded. Even a group of hawks which perched in a near-by tree failed to drive him away.

As word of Looie's presence spread along the Audubon grapevine, his brassy aplomb was put to sterner tests—bird watchers in groups up to 25 in number began arriving almost daily at the Swope house, to mill about the yard and level binoculars and long telescopes at the woodpecker's feeding station. Looie posed for all. Unless Lawyer Swope is eventually moved to swear out a warrant against him for breaking and entering, inciting to riot, suet-lifting, nonpayment of entertainment tax, and sparrow discrimination, there seemed every reason to believe that he will stay in the Swope yard all winter. Perhaps all summer, too.