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Sanctuary Leadership: Spotlight on Dr. Miles D. Pirnie PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jackie Wolfinger   
Tuesday, 19 March 2013 12:47

Over the last few weeks, I have had a unique opportunity to learn about the history of the Bird Sanctuary and its directors. It is fascinating to learn more about the legacy each director has left behind and how their work has contributed to the Sanctuary that we know and love today.

Dr. Miles D. Pirnie, a waterfowl specialist, was the second director of the Sanctuary. During his tenure, he managed to keep the Sanctuary open during the Great Depression, begin tracking waterfowl migration patterns, and engage the public through wildlife photography, extended visiting hours, and educational programs.

Pirnie’s enthusiasm for waterfowl is evident when looking at some of the pictures he took between 1931 and 1948 when he was the Sanctuary’s director. He definitely had an ‘eye’ for photography, and this skill combined with his work with waterfowl was probably very useful when it came to one of Pirnie’s other talents: decoy carving!

Goose silhouette decoy created by Dr. Pirnie

A goose silhouette decoy created by Pirnie

According to The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys by Joe Engers, Pirnie began carving decoys in 1935. He created the body of the decoys out of white cedar and the heads out of white pine. In general, his diver duck decoys have a solid body while his dabbling duck decoys have a hollow body. Pirnie’s knowledge of waterfowl helped him create very lifelike decoys. He actually carved his decoys in a variety of poses so that they would look more like a real flock of ducks when he was hunting with them!

A quick internet search turned up pictures of a handful of decoys carved by Pirnie. He created Northern Pintails, Goldeneyes (scroll down about halfway to view), goose silhouettes, Canvasbacks, Redheads, and Bluebills among others. I also learned that some of Pirnie’s carving legacy lives on in the students of Pirnie’s lifelong friend and hunting partner, Ken K. Krum. I was surprised by the number of postings and online forums about Pirnie; it is clear that Pirnie’s decoys as well as the efforts of his work with waterfowl are being enjoyed by people all over the Midwest!