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Sunday, December 06, 2009

109th Christmas Bird Count

The 109th Annual Christmas Bird Count period begins in 1 week. This year I'll be participating in the Brooklyn, Bronx-Westchester and Southern Nassau Counts. If you are interested in lending a hand, you can find information on all the New York State areas at this link.

The Christmas Bird Count was created by Frank Chapman as a protest against the slaughter of birds. You can read about its history here. I searched for the earliest newspaper accounts of Mr. Chapman's efforts to protect birds. I found the following New York Times article, which pre-dates the first bird count in 1900:

The New York Times
December 3, 1897


The Local Audubon Society Listens to Addresses Condemning Prevailing Millinery Fashions.


F. M. Chapman Shows the Deplorable Results of Bird Slaughter

Dr. Van Dyke on the Sentimental Side of the Question.

The large lecture room of the American Museum of Natural History in Central Park was filled yesterday afternoon by an audience chiefly made up of women and school girls-members and friends of the Audubon Society of the State of New York. They were there to listen to and to meditate on the reasons advanced by the Audubon Society showing why it was wrong for women to eke out their personal beauty by dint of dead birds, or parts of dead birds, worn in their hats or bonnets.

About 1,000 came to be instructed; a few of them wore the prohibited "aigrettes" in their bonnets, and they received severe glances from their neighbors, who had ostrich feathers in theirs. There were a few benevolent-looking men in the audience. On the stage sat Prof. I. S. Bickmore and Frank Chapman of the Museum, the Rev. Dr. Henry Van Dyke, George S. Davis, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, and Morris K. Jesup, President of the Museum and of the Audubon Society, who presented the speakers after a brief introductory address.

Mr. Jesup pointed out the object of the Audubon Society, which was to solicit public sentiment to prevent the wholesale slaughter of the wild birds whose plumage was used for ornamental purposes. The subject was not new, he said, for ten years ago an Audubon Society had been formed, and has passed out of existence after performing excellent work. But the growing custom of wearing birds' plumage now showed that a new crusade was necessary, or the birds would be utterly annihilated. He continued:

The selfishness of man and the vanity of woman are alone responsible for the disappearance of some or the most useful and beautiful birds. There is no one who respects and admires woman more than I do, and it pains me when I am forced to say that her vanity and the contingent eagerness of man to supply her with birds' plumage reaches one of the greatest calamities of our age. The remedy rests solely with the intelligence, with the humanity of women; let her refuse to decorate her hat with feathered plumage and the slaughter of the birds will cease. Let her stop buying; in that alone is the salvation of the birds. No law can be made sufficiently aggressive to remedy the evil. A law without the sentiment of the public behind it is a dead letter. It is to elicit the sentiment for the protection of birds that we have called this meeting."

Mr. Jesup then introduced Mr. Chapman, who spoke in part as follows:

"Ladies and Gentlemen-more particularly ladies: The cry of the day is for statistics. How many birds, it is asked, are annually laid upon the altar of fashion? It is difficult to determine in an entirely trustworthy manner, and yet a few known facts with their accompanying figures show the general tendency.

"Lewis & Peat offered a sale of and birds' feathers at the Commercial Sale Rooms, in London, on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 1897.

Slaughter of the Innocents.

"In the catalogue of their sale occur the following items; Osprey feathers (white heron aigrette), 6,800 ounces; peacock feathers, 22,107 bundles; peacock neck feathers, 875 pounds; parrots, 35,497 pounds; humming birds 1,200 pounds, and various birds, 62,000 pounds. At another sale in London there were offered among other things: Aigrettes, 11,392 ounces; peacock feathers, 215,051 bundles; birds of paradise, 2,362 bundles. The peacocks here mentioned are not the domestic birds but the wild peacock whose skins and feathers are imported from Calcutta.

"In this country we have no public sales of this kind, and one can secure little or no information concerning the trade in feathers. But what information we do receive points to an almost incredulous slaughter of the birds, while it merely suggests the true state of affairs. Some years ago, while at St. Myen, in Florida, then the centre of the aigrette plume business, a plume hunter told me that with two or three assistants he had killed 300 herons in one day. A few years later at Key West I heard a man boast that in one season, with a company of associates, he had killed 130,000 birds for millinery purposes on the Gulf coast of Florida. The result is that the white heron is now no longer met with in Florida, and expeditions of plume hunters are pursuing it to the Amazon, in South America. In a few years, if the fashion for aigrettes continues, there will not be a bird in existence.

"The milliner may tell you that the aigrettes are taken from live birds without pain or that they come off in moulting. This is not the case. The birds are shot, their beautiful plumage torn from them, and their bodies thrown away. But the death of one heron means the loss of the entire brood. For the aigrette plumes constitute the wedding dress of the heron and are worn only during the nesting season. When the parent birds are killed the nestlings die from starvation.

Fashion Still Demands Slaughter.

"When a demand arose in fashion for the wings or body of the tern, or sea swallow, the effect was the same. Thousands on our coasts were slaughtered. The fashion is still in vogue, and the bird has almost entirely disappeared.

"Many women declare that the present destruction of birds is nothing more than a healthy pruning of the feathered race. Let us therefore be specific and consider the actual results of the persecution upon certain species."

The lecture room was then darkened and colored photographs of certain birds were thrown upon the screen, while Mr. Chapman talked on the economic value of birds and their aids to agriculture, in preventing the undue increase of insects, in devouring small rodents, in destroying the seeds of harmful plants , and in acting as scavengers.

Mr. Chapman described the way the native hunters of the Eastern islands pursued the birds of paradise with blunt arrows, so as to not injure the plumage. In closing he declared: "This beautiful bird is now almost extinct. The species fashion selects is doomed. It lies in the power of women to remedy a great evil."

The Rev. Dr. Van Dyke was the next speaker. He said, in part:

"As I am asked to speak upon a scientific subject, I will begin it in a scientific way. I have a monograph on the theme which is still seeking a publisher. I begin it in this way: 'The kingdom of ornithology has two great divisions-the real birds and the English sparrows. The real birds are all right-they are worthy of protection; the English sparrows are little animals that are a nuisance to the real birds and to human beings. We hear of an Anti-Audubon Society against the real birds. It might call itself the Sparrow Society and pursue its original principles just the same.'

Dr. Van Dyke recited two original poems, one of which was on the wood sparrow. The rendering and sentiment of each were enthusiastically applauded by the audience.

A School Principal's Plea.

Mr. Davis spoke of the bird as a means of education in a formative influence with children; a debt which the children could well repay by teaching their parents the true worth of their little friends of the woodlands.

Prof. Bickmore then repeated the illustrated lecture which he delivered before the Ornithological Society. Re showed, by illustration, a scheme by which a study of the birds might be conveniently and instructively carried on in the public schools.

The audience appeared deeply interested, It not instructed and reformed by all that was said, and at the close of the addresses many women with birds in their hats pressed forward to ask questions of Mr. Chapman and Prof. Bickmore.

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