Edward Avery McIlhenny

(29 March 1872 – 8 August 1949)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has a single specimen collected by Edward Avery McIlhenny.  He collected Ustilago shiraiana Henn. (now classified as Bambusiomyces shiraianus (Henn.) K. Vánky), a pathogen of bamboo, from his family estate on Avery Island, Louisiana.  While McIlhenny is remembered today the leader of the McIlhenny Company, famous for Tobasco brand pepper sauce, he was also an ardent naturalist and Honorary Life Associate Member of the American Ornithologists’ Union.(1)

Edward Avery McIlhenny collected this fungal specimen on his family estate, home of McIlhenny Company and Tobasco Pepper Sauce.

Other herbaria which curate fungal and lichen specimens collected by E. A. McIlhenny include the Farlow Herbarium (FH), Cornell University (CUP), New York Botanical Garden (NY), Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research (PDD), United States National Fungus Collections, USDA-ARS (BPI), University of Wyoming (RMS), and Florida Museum of Natural History (FLAS).

Herbaria curating E. A. McIlhenny’s vascular plant specimens include Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN), Institute for Botanical Exploration (IBE), Louisiana State University (LSU), New York Botanical Garden (NY), Rocky Mountain Herbarium (RM), Tall Timbers Research Station (TTRS), and the University of Michigan (MICH).

“The McIlhenny Natural History Collection was begun by Edward Avery McIlhenny… In 1971, [Edward Avery] McIlhenny’s nephew, the late John Stauffer McIlhenny, donated the natural history portion of his library to Louisiana State University, where it was combined with existing holdings.  Since then it has been further developed and is now one of the most prestigious of its kind, with particular strengths in New World botanical and ornithological illustration.”(2)

“In 1976, as part of the United States’ bicentennial celebration, Louisiana State University commissioned [Margaret] Stones to execute six watercolor renderings of Louisiana flora.  This initial project was so successful that Stones was asked to draw a much larger number of the state’s native plants.  Today Stones has completed more than 200 watercolors, all of which are maintained in the LSU Libraries’ E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection… Flora of Louisiana contains more than 200 pages of full-color and black-and-white illustrations.  Each drawing is accompanied by a short text [by Lowell Urbatsch, Ph.D. botanist at LSU] that gives information about the plant, including a physical description an details about habitat and growing conditions.” (3)

McIlhenny was an astute observer, as demonstrated in his 1941 article in The Auk, “The passing of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker”:

     One of the mysteries of Nature that has puzzled me for many years is the passing of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), a bird once resident in most of the forests south of the Ohio River to the Gulf, and east of the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean.  This bird, although naturally shy of man, was endowed with a strong, vigorous personality — far better able to cope with the advance of civilization than its lesser companion, the Pileated Woodpecker (Ceophleus pileatus); yet, the Pileated Woodpecker has survived in numbers, extended its range, and is in no danger of exterminations, while the Ivory-bill has gradually disappeared, until now it is practically exterminated.
Two occurrences during my lifetime lead me to believe the passing of the Ivory-bill coincides with the cutting of the hardwood forests within its range.  From my earliest childhood Ivory-bills were resident in the hardwood timber of Avery Island, and in the great forest extending east from its hills to the Atchafalaya River.  There is no forest west of Avery Island.  The bird was well known to the French-speaking natives, who called it Pique-bois grande differentiating it from the Pileated Woodpecker known as Pique-bois noir.
While Ivory-bills were never common at Avery Island, they were resident, and from three to seven pairs nested yearly in the hardwood areas where gray oak, white oak, magnolia, elm, red gum, and hickory were the principal trees.  The lower lands between the ridges were timbered with cypress, tupelo gum, black gum and maple.  Timber-cutting began in the area along the lower Atchafalaya south of the Southern Pacific Railroad about 1900, and gradually worked west.  All trees of commercial size and quality were cut.  As the cutting of the forests progressed, ever moving from east to west, the shyer birds and mammals kept ahead of the cutters, moving west in the primeval forests.
By 1918, black bear and Ivory-bills were unusually plentiful in the forests of Avery Island, and in the twelve square miles of virgin forest east of the Island in which no cutting had been done up to that time.  In 1918, the standing timber on this property was sold to one of the large saw-mills operating in southern Louisiana, and cutting began that year.  In order to get the great logs out of the wood, to streams in which they could be rafted and floated to the mill, dredge-boats were sent into the woods to cut canals parallel to one another, 2,000 feet apart… The destruction of this forest and the noise of getting out the timber drove the bear, Ivory-bills and other shy forest-dwellers completely away from this section.  In 1920, a careful search located only three of these birds; one pair nested in a large deadened cypress that had not been cut.  In 1921, the same pair nested in the same cypress, a little lower than the nest of the year previous.  A single bird was seen in 1923, — none since.
The Ivory-bills passed from the Avery Island territory with he cutting of the forest. For those of us in Louisiana, who care for and take interest in wildlife, have known for many years of a small number of Ivory-bills inhabiting a tract of some 80,000 acres of virgin timber known as the Singer tract in Madison Parish in the northeast part of the State, and in 1925 induced the Department of Conservation of the State to secure a protective right over the wildlife of this last great primeval forest within the State’s borders, and to police it properly against wildlife destruction.  The owners, however, reserved the right to develop their property whenever they wished, or to sell it.  The colony of Ivory-bills remained undisturbed, except for occasional poachers, who killed them for their skins.  In 1937, the owners sold the timber standing on 40,000 acres of their land, and cutting began at once.  The timber on the rest of the land is for sale, and will probably be cut within a few years.
During this past spring (1940), a careful check of this tract, now being cut over, failed to locate a single Ivory-bill, and only seven were seen in the remaining forest in which no cutting has yet started, and some of these were probably duplications.  When cutting begins on this last stand of virgin timber in Louisiana, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers will disappear, and the demands of civilization will have exterminated one more famous creature through environmental changes.


     Edward Avery McIlhenny… died at his home at Avery Island, Louisiana, on August 8, 1949.  He was born there on March 29, 1872, the son of Edmund McIlhenny and Mary Avery McIlhenny, both of whom were members of distinguished Louisiana families.  Young “Ned” spent much of his early life acquiring an intimate knowledge of the denizens of the vast marshes surrounding his home, and from that knowledge sprang an insatiable love of nature and that was to lead, in later life, to his recognition as one of America’s leading conservationists and most enthusiastic naturalists.
     The explorer instinct early manifested itself in the young naturalist, for at the age of 21 he withdrew from Lehigh University to accompany Dr. Frederick A. Cook to the Arctic, and he was with Cook on the “Miranda” when that ship was wrecked off the coast of Greenland.  Three years later, in August, 1897, he went north on his own expedition to Point Barrow, Alaska, for the purpose of collecting birds and their nests, mammals, and ethnological materials.  This was the fateful winter during which over 100 sailors from several ice-bound whaling ships were forced to spend the winter at this northernmost North American outpost.  The cotton which McIlhenny had taken with him for use in preparing specimens was utilized in the making of bed-covers, the fabrication of which by the idle sailors provided both busy-work and sleeping warmth.
Back at the Avery Island estate, McIlhenny soon set in operation certain wildlife management practices of his own device that resulted in a veritable paradise for ducks, geese, herons, and other waterbirds.  Indeed, his work in creating an artificial pond with nesting platforms and racks of suitable nesting materials led to the establishment of one of the largest heron rookeries on record, and one that was to be known throughout the world as “Bird City.”  McIlhenny not only conducted original researches into the life history and habits of certain birds and published articles in ornithological journals setting for the results of these studies, but also he patronized extensively the works of a number of his ornithologist friends… Aside from his studies of the Snowy and American Egrets, the Boat-tailed Grackle, and the Sandhill Crane, he was the author of numerous books, short articles, and notes that contributed to Gulf Coast ornithology.  Possibly one of his greatest contributions to ornithology was, however, his laborious and long-continuing bird-banding operations that culminated in the banding during his lifetime of the phenomenal number of 189,298 birds.”

McIlhenny, E. A.  1945.  Bamboo growing for the South.  The National Horticulture Magazine  24:  1-6.
Verschaffelt, Alexandre (translated from the French by E. A. McIlhenny).  1945.  New iconography of the Camellias:  Containing the figures and descriptions of the rarest, the newest and the most beautiful varieties of this species 1848-1860.  Published by E. A. McIlhenny, Avery Island, Louisiana.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1945.  An unusual feeding habit of the Black Vulture.  The Auk 62(1):  136-137.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1943.  Major changes in the bird life of southern Louisiana during sixty years.  The Auk 60(4):  541-549.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1942.  Results of 1940 bird banding at Avery Island, Louisiana, with special account of a new banding method.  Bird-Banding 13(1):  19-28.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1941.  Unusual plumage of domestic Mallard Ducks.  Journal of Heredity 31(1):  19-21.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1941.  The passing of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  The Auk 58(4):  582-584. [DOI: 10.2307/4078664]
McIlhenny, E. A. 1941.  Some interesting records from birds banded at Avery Island, retaken during the winter of 1940-1941.  Bird-Banding 12(4):  168-174.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1940.  Albinism in Mockingbirds.  Journal of Heredity 31:  433-438.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1940.  A record of birds banded at Avery Island, Louisiana during the years 1937, 1938 and 1939.  Bird-Banding 11(3):  105-109.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1940.  Sex ratio in wild birds.  The Auk 57(1):  85-93.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1940.  An early experiment in the homing ability of wildfowl.  Bird-Banding 11(2):  58-60.
Sutton, George Miksch, Robert Cushman Murphy, P. A. Tavener, Maurice Sullivan, Herbert S. Cutler, Bayard H. Christy, Jay A. Weber, Frederick J. Ruff, Dayton Stoner, W. E. Scott, and E. A. McIlhenny.  1940.  Birds and the winter of 1939-40.  The Auk 57(3):  401-410.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1939.  The Autobiography of an Egret.  Hastings House:  New York.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1939.  Feeding habits of Black Vulture.  The Auk 56(4):  472-474.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1939.  An unusual migration of Broad-winged Hawks.  The Auk 56(2):  182-183.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1938.  Whooping Crane in Louisiana.  Auk 55:  670.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1938.  Florida Crane a resident of Mississippi.  The Auk 55(4):  598-602.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1938.  Black Vulture following aeroplane.  The Auk 55(3):  521.
McIlhenny, E. A. and Rudolf Bennitt.  1938.  Communications.  The Wilson Bulletin 50(2):  159-160.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1937.  A hybrid between Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture.  The Auk 54(3):  384.
Pangburn, Clifford H., Frank L. Farley, Lynn Griner and E. A. McIlhenny.  Corrections to Pangburn, Griner and McIlhenny.  The Auk 54(4):  574.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1937.  Life history of the Boat-tailed Grackle in Louisiana.  The Auk 54(3):  274-295.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1937.  Notes on the Five Lined Skink.  Copeia 1937(4):  232-233.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1937.  Results of the 1936 bird banding operations at Avery Island, Louisiana, with special references to sex ratios and hybrids.  Bird-Banding 8(3):  117-121.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1936.  Purple Gallinules (Ionornis martinica) are predatory.  The Auk 53(3):  327-328.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1936.  Unusual feeding habits of some of the Ardeidae.  The Auk 53(4):  439-440.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1936.  Are Starlings a menace to the food supply of our native birds?  The Auk 53(3):  338-339.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1935.  The Alligator’s Life Hstory.  The Christopher Publishing House, Boston.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1935.  Barn Swallows breeding on the Gulf Coast.  The Auk 52(2):  188.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1934.  A brief for the Y-chromosome.  Journal of Heredity 25(10):  406-408.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1934.  Notes on incubation and growth of Alligators.  Copeia 1934(2):  80-88.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1934.  Bird City.  E. A. McIlhenny, Avery Island, La. [privately published]
McIlhenny, E. A.  1934.  Twenty-two years of banding migratory water fowl at Avery Island, Louisiana.  The Auk 51(3):  328-337.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1934.  Color of the iris in the Boat-tailed Grackle (Cassidix mexicanus major).  The Auk 51(3):  383-384.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1933.  Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos canadensisi) in Louisiana.  The Auk 50(4):  431-432.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1933.  Barn Swallows breeding on the Gulf Coast.  The Auk 50(4):  439.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1933.  Robins nesting in extreme southern Louisiana.  The Auk 50(4):  439-440.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1933.  Befo’ de War Spirituals.  Boston:  Christopher Publishing House.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1932.  The Blue Goose in its winter home.  The Auk 49(3):  279-306.
McIlhenny, E. A. 1914.  The Wild Turkey and Its Hunting.  Doubleday, Page & Co.:  Garden City, New York.
McIlhenny, E. A.  1897.  A list of the species of Anseres, Paludicolae, and Limicolae occurring in the state of Louisiana.  The Auk 14(3):  285-289.

Stone, Witmer.  1900.  Report on the birds and mammals collected by the McIlhenny Expedition to Point Barrow, Alaska.  Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. 1900.

1.  Lowery, George H., Jr.  1951.  Obituaries:  Edward Avery McIlhenny. The Auk 68: 135.
2.  E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection.  LSU Libraries Special Collections.  https://www.lib.lsu.edu/special/cc/mcllhenny accessed on 1 April 2020.
3.  Stones, Margaret and Lowell Urbatsch.  1991.  Flora of Louisiana.  Louisiana State University:  Baton Rouge.
4.  McIlhenny, E. A.  1941.  The passing of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.  The Auk 58(4):  582-584. [DOI: 10.2307/4078664]