The Flamingo Man
Sandy Sprunt spread his passion for birds and wildlife from the cypress swamps of southern Florida to the bird-filled salt lakes of remote Inagua.
Alexander “Sandy” Sprunt IV, National Audubon’s director of research from 1960 to 1993, was the original “Audubon brat.” The son of Alexander Sprunt Jr., who was Audubon’s director of southern sanctuaries for many years, he spent a couple of his teenage summers with his dad visiting the Audubon camp in Maine during the late 1930s and became a familiar figure among the society’s staff.
Sandy joined Audubon as a biologist in 1952. Among his first assignments was to be a staff member at the short-lived Audubon summer camp in Texas. A stiffer challenge came three years later, when he spent weeks slogging through alligator-infested water, helping to build the famous boardwalk through the cypress trees at Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. A particularly large gator was known to inhabit one section of the swamp. With his inveterate insouciance and understated sense of humor, Sandy brushed off the hazards. Recalling that the building crew included several locals who had lived off the swamp all their lives by collecting furs and alligator hides, he took a reasonable approach: “I felt the alligator was at a distinct disadvantage in attacking us.”
While leading an early public tour of the boardwalk, Sandy was peppered with questions from a native tourist. “How many dead bodies were found in the swamp when they were building this thing?” the tourist asked. “Oh, not very many,” Sandy replied.
Sprunt worked at Audubon of Florida’s Tavernier Science Center, established by Robert Porter Allen in the 1930s, to study the roseate spoonbill’s behavior and nesting and feeding habits. The two men directed research efforts across the country, as well as in the Caribbean and Mexico, that spurred the recovery of the bald eagle, the whooping crane, and the California condor. Sprunt was also a chief advocate for the Tropical Flyways preservation project in the Florida Keys, which protected large areas of undeveloped land for migrating birds, an effort in which Audubon continues to play an important role. Sprunt lived across the road from the Tavernier center until his death last March 2 at the age of 78.
In addition, he served as Audubon’s longtime liaison with the Bahamas National Trust in the southern Bahamas, making regular visits to monitor the greater flamingo colonies on Great Inagua, where he was known as “De Fillymingo Mon.”
“Some of my most vivid memories of Sandy were walking the Corkscrew boardwalk with him after his retirement as he told stories of building what has become an Audubon jewel,” says Jerry Lorenz, research director of Audubon of Florida. “It is a fitting tribute to him.”