Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hunting Stork in East Middleborough, 1915

One of the most unusual objects of a hunt ever in Middleborough was a stork. Not the endearing stork of nursery rhymes and children’s books, the large stork captured in Middleborough in 1915 was an adjutant stork, known for both its large size and an appearance most found, in a word, ugly.

The bird had escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston on Sunday, October 10, 1915. At the time of the bird’s escape, the zoo included what was then the world’s largest “flying cage”, an ironwork aviary nearly 200 feet long and 56 feet high in which were located eagles, a crane and other specimens. In addition, there was a bird house.

Among the zoo’s original specimens when it opened to the public in 1914 was an adjutant stork, no doubt the very same one which escaped to Middleborough the following year. At the time of the zoo’s preparations for opening, a writer for the Boston Globe described the adjutant as a “’horrid bird.’ Its eye is ‘large, full of intelligence, and it has an expression of utter cynicism.’” Others were equally unkind. English author Eden Phillpotts in 1901 termed the adjutant stork “a piteous comic object that made even the professional attendants laugh as they passed”. The bird was cloaked in dark feathers which covered a white body which stood on two chalky spindle-like legs. Most unattractive of all was the bird's large head and neck which resembled that of a vulture, being pink and unfeathered. From its neck hung a reddish pink pouch used in respiration which failed to enhance its attractiveness. Yet despite the bird's generally perceived lack of beauty, in flight it was both a graceful and powerful creature.

The Franklin Park Zoo appears to have had some misfortune with its avian specimens, losing four flamingoes and two German storks in its first years. Years later, the zoo would own another adjutant stork known as “Harry” which perished in a fire in 1997 and was said to have been 25 years old. It was not reported in the Middleborough press at the time of the 1915 escape how such a large creature as a stork was able to escape the confines of the zoo, but it did, flying south from the city, adding to the zoo's flock of woes.

It eventually alighted in the Great Cedar Swamp between East Middleborough and South Halifax. The swamp would have made an ideal habitat for the bird. At the time, the swamp still remained environmentally unaltered and was the largest expanse of wetland in eastern Massachusetts.

Apparently the stork went unobserved for a number of days. Gilbert Thompson of Halifax is reported to have spotted the bird on Wednesday, October 20. On the following day, Thompson “chased it a number of miles” when he encountered Herbert A. Pratt and Clarence S. Shaw, both of Middleborough who were out “gunning”. Upon encountering Thompson and hearing his tale, the two men joined Thompson in the hunt, locating the bird in a section of the Great Cedar Swamp which had recently been logged off.

The bird arose and they fired, hoping to break a wing, which they did and it came to earth. Then ensued quite a battle.

A second report fails to mention that the men had shot the bird, noting that they had surrounded “the stork and were a few feet from it when the frightened bird gave a spring, alighting at least 150 feet away. After maneuvering about for nearly an hour the hunters finally cornered the bird….”

The stork put up a formidable struggle. Later, it was reported that the bird stood between six and seven feet tall, weighed over 80 pounds and had a wingspan of some 18 feet. Though these figures appear somewhat exaggerated, the stork was still a large creature, which both wounded and frightened, presented an obvious danger in its unrestrained state to both itself and the men. Particularly fearsome was the bird’s bill which was remarkably thick and stated to be over two feet long.

The men attempted to hold the bird down by means of pine branches until its bill could be banded and its wings and legs tied.

Before Shaw could get a piece of rope about the huge bill the bird pecked Pratt’s dog, and if it had not been for the brass nameplate on the collar, the animal would have been killed.

Ultimately, the three men were able to restrain the bird which they brought to the home of Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner N. W. Pratt at Middleborough. The truly comic aspect of the entire episode was the report that Pratt “communicated with the Franklin park authorities and from his description they pronounced it the missing bird”, as if there were other loose adjutants for which the Franklin Park stork might have been mistaken.

Sadly, however, following a “short battle” to place the bird in a crate, the bird died from the experience. The following day, on October 22, zoo officials collected the remains.

"Zig Zag's at the Zoo", The Strand Magazine, 5:27, March, 1983,

Brockton Times, “Boston’s Stork Caught, Unhurt”, October 22, 1915
Middleboro Gazette, “Local Gunners Capture Big Bird”, October 22, 1915
Phillpotts, Eden. Fancy Free (London : Methuen & Co., 1901), p. 156.
Remember Jamaica Plain? website,

To read about how adjutant storks were regarded a century and more ago, see Arthur Morrison and A. A. Shepherd, "Zig Zag's at the Zoo", The Strand Magazine, 5:27, March, 1983,


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