THE reputation she earned as a naturalist soon
got the attention of Theodore Empie, the author-ity
on birdwatching in North Carolina.
Empie had a hunch that Wilmington held the
largest count of bird species in the state. He suffered from
terrible arthritis that prevented him from testing his theory,
and so he sought out Appleberry. He approached her about
the project in 1942. When she complained that she knew
nothing about birds or birding, he issued her a pair of
binoculars and a famous reply. “You can learn.”
And learn she did. She was slow at first and impeded by poor
eyesight but, with instruction from experienced birders, she
found that she had a real knack for it. She went on to surpass
Empie as the foremost authority on birding in the state.
Her incredible sense of hearing all but made up for visual
impairment. Hearing and noting a bird’s song can be just as
important in identifying its species as simply viewing it.
In 1947 she heard a complaint from an out-of-town trav-eler
WBM september 2020
that Wilmington had no real bird club. She declared:
“Certainly we have a bird club, and I’m the president of it.”
She called a meeting of 14 bird enthusiasts and friends
that same night.
“Today I have founded the Wilmington Bird Club,
appointed myself president, and I have a slate of officers
which I would like you to adopt unanimously,” she said.
One of the 14 jokingly responded, “President? She means
And so, the Wilmington Bird Club was born.
Top: In an excerpt from her 1953-54 winter season field notes, Edna Appleberry humorously describes an unusually high number
of robins being reported in Wilmington on January 10, 1954. Above, left: Appleberry’s handwritten field notes include a tally
of species sighted by the Wilmington Bird Club during the 1958 Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Above, right: Appleberry, left,
addresses the Cape Fear Garden Club Conservation Committee in 1951. She and the group were instrumental in getting a state
law passed restricting commercial shipment of the Venus flytrap. At right is fellow club member Mrs. P. R. Smith.