Milton B. Trautman was a serious birder. He was a largely self-taught scientist, and his accomplishments
were legendary. Born and bred in
the heyday of “shotgun ornithology,” Trautman shot and collected
more bird species in his home state
of Ohio than most Buckeye State
birders have tallied with binoculars.
The Kirtland’s warbler, however,
long eluded Trautman. No real surprise—he was active from the early
1900s up to the 1980s, and this rare
warbler was even scarcer during
much of that period than it is today.
His dry spell ended on the eve-
ning of May 24, 1954, on South
Bass Island in Lake Erie. The
dominant feature on the island—
renowned in spring and fall for its
numbers of migrant songbirds—is
the 352-foot-tall Perry’s Monument
that commemorates Commodore
Oliver Hazard Perry’s 1813 vic-
tory over the British in the Battle
of Lake Erie. The tower is brightly
lit at night and unfortunately lures
scores of songbirds, many of which
strike the monument and are killed.
Trautman made a habit of stroll-
ing the tower’s base at night and
documenting kills. On that fateful
May evening, he was collecting and
recording tower strikes when thunk!
A falling object glanced off his head
and tumbled to his feet. One can only
imagine Milt’s surprise when he saw
that it was a Kirtland’s warbler.