Subtle whispers of bird songs float across the morning air as cooing doves compete for attention, flapping their wings and rustling the tree leaves. Our backyards and cities are filled with an abundance of feathered flying species. Some we call a nuisance while others command our upward gaze with ahhs of delight. You need not be a "birder" with binoculars to celebrate today's centennial anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty, a convention between the United States and Great Britain (Canada) for the federal protection of migratory birds. The treaty was later passed by an Act of Congress and signed by President Woodrow Wilson, superseding state rules and regulations, making it illegal to "pursue, hunt, kill, possess, or offer for sale... at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird." (16 U.S.C. 703) Later treaties were implemented with Mexico, Japan, and the Soviet Union now Russia.
There are over 800 species listed and approximately 160 are considered "game birds." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publishes the migratory game bird regulations in the Federal Register. However, it is not legal to hunt specific species in all States. Check your State's natural resource agency for regulations and permits.
According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to possess any migratory bird part. This includes this white feather observed at Bolivar Flats where American White Pelicans, Ibis, Great White Egrets, Reddish Egrets (headline photo), and many other species of waterfowl and shorebirds nest or visit during spring and fall migrations.
Why is this important and Why should you celebrate? Birds and their plumage have adorned human history. From spiritual symbolism and cultural customs to early writing tools and fabulous fashion trends, feathers have captivated our imaginations. In the late 1800's into the early 20th century, bird feathers became the must-have fashion item for hats, muffs, and garments. This was also the Age of Exploration when scientists and naturalists were discovering new species around the globe. The more exotic the bird, the higher the price each feather would supply. The increasing demand for feathers and whole birds for both science and fashion resulted in the killing of millions of birds a year. As a result, some bird species became greatly threatened or near extinction.
Science and Fashion in 19th Century Art. 1828 Brazil By Johann Heinrich Richter (1803-1845) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons in the Joslyn Art Museum of Omaha.
By the 1800's some states, Massachusetts and Ohio, began enacting laws for the protection of non-game species. In 1827, John James Audubon began publishing his illustrations of North American birds and in 1832 Thomas Nuttall published the first field guide to birds in North America. Audubon's illustrations and Nuttall's study of birds inspired the first ornithology clubs and professional organizations. By the late 1800's feathers in fashion were all the rage in both Europe and America.
The Woman Behind the Gun, 1911 By Gordon Ross [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. A detailed investigation of the illustration gives insight into the opinion of the fashion industry's appetite for birds.
In 1900, The Lacey Act became the first federal law protecting wildlife. The Act made it "unlawful to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase fish, wildlife or plants that are taken, possessed, transported, or sold: 1) in violation of U.S. or Indian law, or 2) in interstate or foreign commerce involving any fish, wildlife, or plants taken possessed or sold in violation of State or foreign law." (fws.gov)
In December of the same year, the first Christmas Day Bird Count was organized by ornithologist Frank M Chapman for the incipient Audubon Society. The Christmas Bird Census has continued year after year into the 21st-century leading citizen science to the discovery of declining bird populations and influencing the federal protection of bird species in the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty. No longer could fashion, science or agriculture plunder America's natural resources setting a precedent that limited market hunting. The early 20th-century conservation movements by concerned citizens have shaped the natural world of today. Many bird species would have been lost and we the people would not experience the biodiversity and abundance of bird life. And that calls for a celebration!
How You Can Help In the state of Texas, wildlife traveling through state boundaries is not owned by landowners or the government but rather by the people of the state of Texas. It is our duty as citizens to protect wildlife. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, of the 615 species of birds documented throughout the state 333 or 54% are migratory.
Three ways to help protect migratory birds.
- Participate in Citizen Science. Help document and count species in your own backyard for the Christmas Bird Count and/or post photographs on iNaturalist.org of the various birds observed in nature. Often knowledgeable users will identify the species and scientific data may be collected from the various sightings.
- Donate time or money to local parks, nature centers, or a wildlife refuge. Many organizations need help with invasive species removal, trail maintenance, native plant propagation, educational tours, or various other administrative tasks. If you do not have time, find a birding organization or nature center in your immediate area and make a donation.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Particularly, reduce your consumption of plastic and pick up any plastic on the ground especially near water sources. For my regular readers, you know my aversion to plastic. The accumulation in our oceans is harming marine life and migratory birds.
Take time today to listen, observe, give thanks, and celebrate the wonderful array of birds right outside your door. To learn more visit The Botanical Journey's articles about Bald Eagles, Whopping Cranes, & Sandhill Cranes.
Alphabetical List of Protected Migratory Birds- https://www.fws.gov/birds/management/managed-species/migratory-bird-treaty-act-protected-species.php