The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Birds, Protection of

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BIRDS, Protection of. During all the early history of this country little or no attention was paid to the destruction of birds or other wild animals. Probably the earliest law on the subject was one passed in Massachusetts in 1817, establishing closed seasons for certain animals and birds shot as game. It was not until many years later that any protection was thrown over small birds, even in New England. About 1880 it began to be fashionable for women to adorn their hats and other decorative garments with the feathers of birds, and the whole world was ransacked for fine feathers. The enormous destruction of bird-life large and small that ensued pained bird-lovers and humane persons, and alarmed economists, who understood the immensely beneficial service birds did in aiding to keep down the hordes of injurious insects that preyed on our grain fields, orchards and gardens. Societies for bird-protection were organized in Great Britain and on the continent of Europe, and in the United States Audubon societies came into existence, and exerted a powerful and permanent influence, as described elsewhere (see Audubon Societies). The result of this was to discourage the wearing of feather-ornaments, and the restriction of the local supply, by laws passed in most of the States prohibiting the killing of game-birds and wild fowl except during limited seasons of the year; and the prohibition of the killing, or destruction of their eggs, of all other birds, with a few exceptions, such as some hawks, the crow, etc., regarded as injurious. With these laws behind them the Audubon societies and other friends of the birds were able to punish wanton shooting and trapping, guard breeding-colonies of herons (especially the egrets), gulls, terns and wildfowl; and to carry out plans, now widely useful, for education of the young in the interest and value of birds, and regard for them and for other native animals. In this way the destruction of birds for millinery use was largely stopped; but in order to complete the reform greater co-operation with foreign efforts in the same direction was needed. This was seen to be a matter of Federal action, and first resulted in the United States Statute of 4 March 1909, known as the Lacey Act. This prohibited the importation into the United States of any bird or other animal declared by the Secretary of Agriculture to be injurious; and forbade common carriers handling or transporting any such animals, or their dead bodies, or parts thereof, or any animals killed in, or shipped from, any State or Territory in violation of the laws. This prevented would-be evaders taking advantage of inequalities between the States as to “open seasons” for game.

This inequality among State laws as to the periods when shooting was permitted was the cause of continual dissatisfaction and evil, especially as to ducks, geese and shore-birds, during their annual migrations between the tropics and their northern breeding-places; the open season for them began early in the South and extended late in the North, so that the intent of various local laws was practically annulled, and this class of birds was threatened with extinction. After a long campaign of effort Congress came to adopt the theory that the migratory birds, being in most cases mere travelers across States, were not local residents nor State property, but belonged to the people at large; and if they were to be saved to the people the national authority must intervene. Congress, therefore, passed (4 March 1913) the Migratory Bird Law, popularly known as the McLean Law in compliment to its foremost promoter, Senator McLean of Connecticut, the gist of which is as follows:

“All wild geese, wild swans, brant, wild ducks, snipe, plover, woodcock, rail, wild pigeons, and all other migratory game and insectivorous birds which in their northern and southern migrations pass through or do not remain permanently the entire year within the borders of any State or Territory, shall hereafter be deemed to be within the custody and protection of the Government of the United States, and shall not be destroyed or taken contrary to regulations hereinafter provided therefor. The Department of Agriculture is hereby authorized and directed to adopt suitable regulations to give effect to the previous paragraph.”

These regulations have been issued in successive bulletins by the Biological Bureau of the Department of Agriculture with slight changes from year to year. The most important effect of this law — and a very far-reaching benefit — is stoppage of the shooting of wild fowl in the spring, an evil especially prevalent in the Mississippi valley.

The well-disposed people of Canada had been equally active in bird-protection with those of the United States, but met with the similar difficulty of inequality of laws between their provinces; furthermore both countries were hampered by gunners and dealers shooting and trafficking more or less illegally across the border. It was perceived after the passage of the Migratory Bird Law in 1913 that its full purpose could not be realized in the United States, or availed of by the Canadians, except by co-operation. This resulted, after much effort, in formulating a “convention” or treaty between this country and Great Britain (for Canada), which unified the protective laws of both countries. This treaty was perfected in the autumn of 1916 and proclaimed by the President on 8 December; and several months later Congress passed an “enabling act,” giving power and money to the designated officials to enforce its observance, as Canada had previously done for its side of the border. This treaty incorporates the substance of the Migratory Bird Law; declares that the close season on migratory game birds shall be between 10 March and 1 September (except for shore-birds along the northeastern coast, for which the close season shall be 1 February to 15 August); prohibits the killing, capture or destruction of eggs of all migratory song-birds at all times (with certain special local provisions and exceptions); and establishes prohibitory regulations in regard to international commerce in game or other birds. Consult Forbush, ‘Useful Birds and Their Protection’ (Boston 1908), and publications of the United States Department of Agriculture (Biological Survey), Reports of Game Commissions of the various States and provinces and reports and publications of the National Association of Audubon Societies (New York).

Ernest Ingersoll.