Part 3 out of 11
rendered a great service to all the birds that live or nest upon the
ground. His relentless pursuit and destruction of the savage-tempered,
strong-jawed fur-bearing animals is in part the salvation of the ground
birds of to-day and yesterday. If the teeth and claws had been permitted
to multiply unchecked down to the present time, with man's warfare on
the upland game proceeding as it has done, scores upon scores of species
long ere this would have been exterminated.
But the slaughter of the millions of North American foxes, wolves,
weasels, skunks, and mink has so overwhelmingly reduced the four-footed
enemies of the birds that the balance of wild Nature has been preserved.
As a rule, the few predatory wild animals that remain are not
slaughtering the birds to a serious extent; and for this we may well be
THE DOMESTIC CAT.--In such thickly settled communities as our northern
states, from the Atlantic coast to the sandhills of Kansas and Nebraska,
the domestic cat is probably the greatest four-footed scourge of bird
life. Thousands of persons who never have seen a hunting cat in action
will doubt this statement, but the proof of its truthfulness is only too
Unhappily it is the way of the hunting cat to stalk unseen, and to kill
the very birds that are most friendly with man, and most helpful to him
in his farming and fruit-growing business. The quail is about the only
game bird that the cat affects seriously, and to it the cat is very
destructive. It is the robin, catbird, thrush, bluebird, dove,
woodpecker, chickadee, phoebe, tanager and other birds of the lawn, the
garden and orchard that afford good hunting for sly and savage old
When I was a boy in my 'teens, I had a lasting series of object lessons
on the cat as a predatory animal. Our "Betty" was the most ambitious and
successful domestic-cat hunter of wild mammals of which I ever have
heard. To her, rats and mice were mere child's-play, and after a time
their pursuit offered such tame sport that she sought fresh fields for
her prowess. Then she brought in young rabbits, chipmunks and
thirteen-lined spermophiles, and once she came in, quite exhausted, half
dragging and half carrying a big, fat pocket gopher. With her it seemed
to be a point of honor that she should bring in her game and display it.
Little did we realize then that in course of time the wild birds would
become so scarce that their slaughter by house cats would demand
legislative action in the states.
In considering the hunting cat, let us call in a credible witness of the
effects of domestic cats on the bob white. The following is an
eye-witness report, by Ernest B. Beardsley, in _Outdoor Life_ for April,
1912. The locality was Wellington, Sumner County, Kansas.
In the meantime, old Queen was having a high old time up ahead, some
hundred feet by then, running up the bank and back down in the draw.
We had hardly caught up when up goes Mr. Savage's gun and he gives
both barrels. I had seen nothing up to date, but I didn't have long
to wait, for by the time I got up to him and the dog, they were both
in the high grass and had a great, big, common gray maltese
house-cat; and Queen had a half-eaten quail that Mr. Cat was busy
with when disturbed.
Well, we followed the draw across the field and got nine of a covey
of sixteen that had been ahead of Mr. Cat; and about four o'clock
that evening we killed another white-and-gray cat. While driving
home that night, Mr. Savage told me that he had killed fifty or more
in three or four years. They will get in a draw full of
tumble-grass, on a cold day when quail don't like to fly, and stay
right with them; and even after feeding on two or three, they will
lie and watch, and when the covey moves, they move. When eating time
comes around they are at it again, and to a covey of young birds
they are sure death to the whole covey.
Well, Will told me never to overlook a house-cat that I found as far
as a quarter of a mile from a farm or ranch, for if they have not
already turned wild, they are learning how easy it is to hunt and
live on game, and are almost as bad. We found Mr. Black-and-White
Hunter had eaten two quail just before we killed him that evening. I
would rather not write what Mr. Savage said when we found the
remains of a partly-eaten bird.
My advice is, don't let tame cats get away when found out hunting;
for the chances are they have not seen a home in months, and maybe
years,--and say! but they do get big and bad. When you meet one,
give it to him good, and don't let your dog run up to him until he
is out for keeps. I learned afterwards that was how Will knew it was
a cat. Queen had learned to back off and call for help on cats some
In the New York Zoological Park, we have had troubles of our own with
marauding cats. They establish themselves in a day, and quickly learn
where to seek easy game and good cover. In the daytime they lie close in
the thick brush, exactly as tigers do in India, but if not molested for
a period of days, they become bold and attack game in open view. One
bird-killing cat was so shy of man that it was only after two weeks of
hard hunting (mornings and evenings) that it was killed.
We have seen cats catch and kill gray squirrels, chipmunks, robins and
thrushes, and have found the feathers of slaughtered quail. Once we had
gray rabbits breeding in the park, and their number reached between
eighty and ninety. For a time they fearlessly hopped about in sight from
our windows, and they were of great interest to visitors and to all of
us. Then the cats began upon them; and in one year there was not a
rabbit to be seen, save at rare intervals. At the same time the
chipmunks of the park were almost exterminated.
That was the last straw, and we began a vigorous war upon those wild and
predatory cats. The cats came off second best. We killed every cat that
was found hunting in the park, and we certainly got some that were big
and bad. We eliminated that pest, and we are keeping it eliminated. And
with what result?
In 1911 a covey of eleven quail came and settled in our grounds, and
have remained there. Twenty times at least during the past eight months
(winter and spring) I have seen the flock on the granite ledge not more
than forty feet from the rear window of my office. Last spring when I
left the Administration Building at six o'clock, after the visitors had
gone, I found two half-grown rabbits calmly roosting on the door-mat.
The rabbits are slowly coming back, and the chipmunks are visibly
increasing in number. The gray squirrels now chase over the walks
without fear of any living thing, and our ducklings and young guineas
and peacocks are safe once more.
That cats destroy annually in the United States several _millions_ of
very valuable birds, seems fairly beyond question. I believe that in
settled regions they are worse than weasels, foxes, skunks and mink
_combined_; because there are about one hundred times as many of them,
and those that hunt are not afraid to hunt in the daytime. Of course I
am not saying that _all_ cats hunt wild game; but in the country I
believe that fully one-half of them do.
I am personally acquainted with a cat in Indiana, on the farm of
relatives, which is notorious for its hunting propensities, and its
remarkable ability in capturing game. Even the lady who is joint owner
of the cat feels very badly about its destructiveness, and has said,
over and over again, that it ought to be killed; but the cat is such a
family pet that no one in the family has the heart to destroy it, and as
yet no stranger has come forward to play the part of executioner. The
lady in question assured me that to her certain knowledge that
particular cat would watch a nestful of young robins week after week
until they had grown up to such a size that they were almost ready to
fly; then he would kill them and devour them. Old "Tommy" was too wise
to kill the robins when they were unduly small.
In a great book entitled _Useful Birds and Their Protection_, by E.H.
Forbush, State Ornithologist of Massachusetts, and published by the
Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture in 1905, there appears, on page
362, many interesting facts on this subject. For example:
Mr. William Brewster tells of an acquaintance in Maine, who said
that his cat killed about fifty birds a year. Mr. A.C. Dike wrote
[to Mr. Forbush] of a cat owned by a family, and well cared for.
They watched it through one season, and found that it killed
fifty-eight birds, including the young in five nests.
Nearly a hundred correspondents, scattered through all the counties
of the state, report the cat as one of the greatest enemies of
birds. The reports that have come in of the torturing and killing of
birds by cats are absolutely sickening. The number of birds killed
by them in this state is appalling.
Some cat lovers believe that each cat kills on the average not more
than ten birds a year; but I have learned of two instances where
more than that number were killed in a single day, and another where
seven were killed. If we assume, however, that the average cat on
the farm kills but ten birds per year, and that there is one cat to
each farm in Massachusetts, we have, in round numbers, seventy
thousand cats, killing seven hundred thousand birds annually.
[Illustration: A HUNTING CAT AND ITS VICTIM
This Cat had fed so bountifully on the Rabbits and Squirrels of the
Zoological Park, that it ate only the Brain of this Gray Rabbit]
In Mr. Forbush's book there is an illustration of the cat which killed
fifty-eight birds in one year, and the animal was photographed with a
dead robin in its mouth. The portrait is reproduced in this chapter.
Last year, a strong effort was made in Massachusetts to enact a law
requiring cats to be licensed. On account of the amount of work
necessary in passing the no-sale-of-game bill, that measure was not
pressed, and so it did not become a law; but another year it will
undoubtedly be passed, for it is a good bill, and extremely necessary at
this time. _Such a law is needed in every state_!
There is a mark by which you may instantly and infallibly know the worst
of the wild cats--by their presence _away from home, hunting in the
open_. Kill all such, wherever found. The harmless cats are domestic in
their tastes, and stay close to the family fireside and the kitchen.
Being properly fed, they have no temptation to become hunters. There are
cats and cats, just as there are men and men: some tolerable, many
utterly intolerable. No sweeping sentiment for _all_ cats should be
allowed to stand in the way of the abatement of the hunting-cat
_Of all men, the farmer cannot afford the luxury of their existence_! It
is too expensive. With him it is a matter of dollars, and cash out of
pocket for every hunting cat that he tolerates in his neighborhood.
There are two places in which to strike the hunting cats: in the open,
and in the state legislature.
While this chapter was in the hands of the compositors, the hunting cat
and gray rabbit shown in the accompanying illustration were brought in
by a keeper.
DOGS AS DESTROYERS OF BIRDS.--I have received many letters from
protectors of wild life informing me that the destruction of
ground-nesting birds, and especially of upland game birds, by roaming
dogs, has in some localities become a great curse to bird life.
Complaints of this kind have come from New York, Massachusetts,
Connecticut, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Usually the culprits are
_hunting dogs_--setters, pointers and hounds.
Now, surely it is not necessary to set forth here any argument on this
subject. It is not open to argument, or academic treatment of any kind.
The cold fact is:
In the breeding season of birds, and while the young birds are incapable
of quick and strong flight, all dogs, of every description, should be
restrained from free hunting; and all dogs found hunting in the woods
during the season referred to should be arrested, and their owners
should be fined twenty dollars for each offense. Incidentally, one-half
the fine should go to the citizen who arrests the dog. The method of
restraining hunting dogs should devolve upon dog owners; and the law
need only prohibit or punish the act.
Beyond a doubt, in states that still possess quail and ruffed grouse,
free hunting by hunting dogs leads to great destruction of nests and
broods during the breeding season.
TELEGRAPH AND TELEPHONE WIRES.--Mr. Daniel C. Beard has strongly called
my attention to the slaughter of birds by telegraph wires that has come
under his personal observation. His country home, at Redding,
Connecticut, is near the main line of the New York, New Haven and
Hartford Railway, along which a line of very large poles carries a great
number of wires. The wires are so numerous that they form a barrier
through which it is difficult for any bird to fly and come out alive and
Mr. Beard says that among the birds killed or crippled by flying against
those wires near Redding he has seen the following species: olive-backed
thrush, white-throated sparrow and other sparrows, oriole, blue jay,
rail, ruffed grouse, and woodcock. It is a common practice for employees
of the railway, and others living along the line, to follow the line and
pick up on one excursion enough birds for a pot-pie.
Beyond question, the telegraph and telephone wires of the United States
annually exact a heavy toll in bird life, and claim countless thousands
of victims. They may well be set down as one of the unseen forces
destructive to birds.
Naturally, we ask, what can be done about it?
I am told that in Scotland such slaughter is prevented by the attachment
of small tags or discs to the telephone wires, at intervals of a few
rods, sufficiently near that they attract the attention of flying birds,
and reveal the line of an obstruction. This system should be adopted in
all regions where the conditions are such that birds kill themselves
against telegraph wires, and an excellent place to begin would be along
the line of the N.Y., N.H. & H. Railway.
WILD ANIMALS.--Beyond question, it is both desirable and necessary that
any excess of wild animals that prey upon our grouse, quail, pheasants,
woodcock, snipe, mallard duck, shore birds and other species that nest
on the ground, should be killed. Since we must choose between the two,
the birds have it! Weasels and foxes and skunks are interesting, and
they do much to promote the hilarity of life in rural districts, but
they do not destroy insects, and are of comparatively little value as
destroyers of the noxious rodents that prey upon farm crops. While a few
persons may dispute the second half of this proposition, the burden of
proof that my view is wrong will rest upon them; and having spent
eighteen years "on the farm," I think I am right. If there is any
positive evidence tending to prove that the small carnivores that we
class as "vermin" are industrious and persistent destroyers of noxious
rodents--pocket gophers, moles, field-mice and rats--or that they do not
kill wild birds numerously, now is the time to produce it, because the
tide of public sentiment is strongly setting against the weasels, mink,
foxes and skunks. (Once upon a time, a shrewd young man in the
Zoological Park discovered a weasel hiding behind a stone while
devouring a sparrow that it had just caught and killed. He stalked it
successfully, seized it in his bare hand, and, even though bitten, made
good the capture.)
The State of Pennsylvania is extensively wooded, with forests and with
brush which affords excellent home quarters and breeding grounds for
mammalian "vermin." The small predatory mammals are so seriously
destructive to ruffed grouse and other ground birds that the State Game
Commission is greatly concerned. When the hunter's license law is
enacted, as it very surely will be at the next session of the
legislature (1913), a portion of the $70,000 that it will produce each
year will be used by the commission in paying bounties on the
destruction of the surplus of vermin. Through the pursuit of vermin, any
farmer can easily win enough bounties to more than pay the cost of his
annual hunting license (one dollar), and the farmers' boys will find a
new interest in life.
In some portions of the Rocky Mountain region, the assaults of the large
predatory mammals and birds on the young of the big-game species
occasionally demand special treatment. In the Yellowstone Park the pumas
multiplied to such an extent and killed so many young elk that their
number had to be systematically reduced. To that end "Buffalo" Jones was
sent out by the Government to find and destroy the intolerable surplus
of pumas. In the course of his campaign he killed about forty, much to
the benefit of the elk herds. Around the entrance to the den of a big
old male puma, Mr. Jones found the skulls and other remains of nine elk
calves that "the old Tom" had killed and carried there.
Pumas and lynxes attack and kill mountain sheep; and the golden eagle is
very partial to mountain sheep lambs and mountain goat kids. It will not
answer to permit birds of that bold and predatory species to become too
numerous in mountains inhabited by goats and sheep; and the fewer the
mountain lions the better, for they, like the lynx and eagle, have
nothing to live upon save the game.
The wolves and coyotes have learned to seek the ranges of cattle,
horses and sheep, where they still do immense damage, chiefly in
killing young stock. In spite of the great sums that have been paid out
by western states in bounties for the destruction of wolves, in many,
many places the gray wolf still persists, and can not be exterminated.
To the stockmen of the west the wolf question is a serious matter. The
stockmen of Montana say that a government expert once told them how to
get rid of the gray wolves. His instructions were: "Locate the dens, and
kill the young in the dens, soon after they are born!" "All very easy to
_say_, but a trifle difficult to _do_!" said my informant; and the
ranchman seem to think they are yet a long way from a solution of the
During the past year the destruction of noxious predatory animals in the
national forest reserves has seriously occupied the attention of the
United States Bureau of Forestry. By the foresters of that bureau the
following animals were destroyed in fifteen western states:
88 Mountain Lions
172 Gray Wolves
69 Wolf Pups
In 1910 the total was 9,103.
[Illustration: THE EASTERN RED SQUIRREL
A Great Destroyer of Birds]
THE RED SQUIRREL.--Once in a great while, conditions change in subtle
ways, wild creatures unexpectedly increase in number, and a community
awakens to the fact that some wild species has become a public nuisance.
In a small city park, even gray squirrels may breed and become so
fearfully numerous that, in their restless quest for food, they may
ravage the nests of the wild birds, kill and devour the young, and
become a pest. In the Zoological Park, in 1903, we found that the red
squirrels had increased to such a horde that they were driving out all
our nesting wild birds, driving out the gray squirrels, and making
themselves intolerably obnoxious. We shot sixty of them, and brought the
total down to a reasonable number. Wherever he is or whatever his
numerical strength, the red squirrel is a bad citizen, and, while we do
not by any means favor his extermination, he should resolutely be kept
within bounds by the rifle.
When a crow nested in our woods, near the Beaver Pond, we were greatly
pleased; but with the feeding of the first brood, the crows began to
carry off ducklings from the wild-fowl pond. After one crow had been
seen to seize and carry away _five_ young ducks in one forenoon, we
decided that the constitutional limit had been reached, for we did not
propose that all our young mallards should be swept into the awful
vortex of that crow nest. We took those young crows and reared them by
hand; but the old one had acquired a bad habit, and she persisted in
carrying off young ducks until we had to end her existence with a gun.
It was a painful operation, but there was no other way.
[Illustration: COOPER'S HAWK
A Species to be Destroyed]
BIRD-DESTROYING BIRDS.--There are several species of birds that may at
once be put under sentence of death for their destructiveness of useful
birds, without any extenuating circumstances worth mentioning. Four of
these are _Cooper's Hawk_, the _Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Pigeon Hawk_ and
_Duck Hawk_. Fortunately these species are not so numerous that we need
lose any sleep over them. Indeed, I think that today it would be a
mighty good collector who could find one specimen in seven days'
hunting. Like all other species, these, too, are being shot out of our
Several species of bird-eating birds are trembling in the balance, and
under grave suspicion. Some of them are the _Great Horned Owl, Screech
Owl, Butcher Bird_ or _Great Northern Shrike_. The only circumstance
that saves these birds from instant condemnation is the delightful
amount of rats, mice, moles, gophers and noxious insects that they
annually consume. In view of the awful destructiveness of the accursed
bubonic-plague-carrying rat, we are impelled to think long before
placing in our killing list even the great horned owl, who really does
levy a heavy tax on our upland game birds. As to the butcher bird, we
feel that we ought to kill him, but in view of his record on wild mice
and rats, we hesitate, and finally decline.
[Illustration: SHARP-SHINNED HAWK
A Species to be Destroyed]
SNAKES.--Mr. Thomas M. Upp, a close and long observer of wild things
wishes it distinctly understood that while the common black-snakes and
racers are practically harmless to birds, the _Pilot Black-Snake_,
--long, thick and truculent,--is a great scourge to nesting birds. It
seems to be deserving of death. Mr. Upp speaks from personal knowledge,
and his condemnation of the species referred to is quite sweeping. At
the same time Mr. Raymond L. Ditmars points out the fact that this
serpent feeds during 6 months of the year on mice, and in doing so
renders good service. In the South it is called the "Mouse Snake."
[Illustration: THE CAT THAT KILLED 58 BIRDS IN ONE YEAR
From Mr. Forbush's Book
Photo by A.C. Dyke]
* * * * *
THE DESTRUCTION OF WILD LIFE BY DISEASES
Every cause that has the effect of reducing the total of wild-life
population is now a matter of importance to mankind. The violent and
universal disturbance of the balance of Nature that already has taken
place throughout the temperate and frigid zone offers not only food for
thought, but it calls for vigorous action.
There are vast sections in the populous centres of western civilization
where the destruction of species, even to the point of extermination, is
fairly inevitable. It is the way of Christian man to destroy all wild
life that comes within the sphere of influence of his iron heel. With
the exception of the big game, this destruction is largely a
temperamental result, peculiar to the highest civilization. In India
where the same fields have been plowed for wheat and dahl and raggi for
at least 2,000 years, the Indian antelope, or "black buck," the saras
crane and the adjutant stalk through the crops, and the nilgai and
gazelle inhabit the eroded ravines in an agricultural land that averages
1,200 people to the square mile!
We have seen that even in farming country, where mud villages are as
thick as farm houses in Nebraska, wild animals and even hoofed game can
live and hold their own through hundreds of years of close association
with man. The explanation is that the Hindus regard wild animals as
creatures entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and
they are not anxious to shoot every wild animal that shows its head. In
the United States, nearly every game-inhabited community is animated by
a feeling that every wild animal must necessarily be killed as soon as
seen; and this sentiment often leads to disgraceful things. For
instance, in some parts of New England a deer straying into a town is at
once beset by the hue and cry, and it is chased and assaulted until it
is dead, by violent and disgraceful means. New York State, however,
seems to have outgrown that spirit. During the past ten years, at least
a dozen deer in distress have been rescued from the Hudson River, or in
inland towns, or in barnyards in the suburbs of Yonkers and New York,
and carefully cared for until "the zoo people" could be communicated
with. Last winter about 13 exhausted grebes and one loon were picked up,
cared for and finally shipped with tender care to the Zoological Park.
One distressed dovekie was picked up, but failed to survive.
The sentiment for the conservation of wild life has changed the mental
attitude of very many people. The old Chinese-Malay spirit which cries
"Kill! Kill!" and at once runs amuck among suddenly discovered wild
animals, is slowly being replaced by a more humane and intelligent
sentiment. This is one of the hopeful and encouraging signs of the
The destruction of wild animals by natural causes is an interesting
subject, even though painful. We need to know how much destruction is
wrought by influences wholly beyond the control of man, and a few cases
must be cited.
RINDERPEST IN AFRICA.--Probably the greatest slaughter ever wrought upon
wild animals by diseases during historic times, was by rinderpest, a
cattle plague which afflicted Africa in the last decade of the previous
century. Originally, the disease reached Africa by way of Egypt, and
came as an importation from Europe. From Egypt it steadily traveled
southward, reaching Somaliland in 1889. In 1896 it reached the Zambesi
River and entered Rhodesia. From thence it went on southward almost to
the Cape. Not only did it sweep away ninety percent of the native cattle
but it also destroyed more than seventy-five per cent of the buffalos,
antelopes and other hoofed game of Rhodesia. It was feared that many
species would be completely exterminated, but happily that fear was not
realized. The buffalo and antelope herds were fifteen years in breeding
up again to a reasonable number, but thanks to the respite from hunters
which they enjoyed for several years, finally they did recover.
Throughout British East Africa the supply of big game in 1905 was very
great, but since that time it has been very greatly diminished by
CARIBOU DISEASE.--From time to time reports have come from the Province
of Quebec, and I think from Maine and New Brunswick also, of many
caribou having died of disease. The nature of that disease has remained
a mystery, because it seems that no pathologist ever has had an
opportunity to investigate it. Fortunately, however, the alleged disease
never has been sufficiently wide-spread or continuous to make
appreciable inroads on the total number of caribou, and apparently the
trouble has been local.
SCAB IN MOUNTAIN SHEEP.--"Scab" is a contagious and persistent skin
disease that affects sheep, and is destructive when not controlled.
Fifteen years ago it prevailed in some portions of the west. In Colorado
it has several times been reported that many bighorn mountain sheep were
killed by "scab," which was contracted on wild mountain pastures that
had been gone over by domestic sheep carrying that disease. From the
reports current at that time, we inferred that about 200 mountain sheep
had been affected. It was feared that the disease would spread through
the wild flocks and become general, but this did not occur. It seems
that the remnant flocks had become so isolated from one another that the
isolation of the affected flocks saved the others.
LUMPY-JAW IN ANTELOPE AND SHEEP.--It is a lamentable fact that some, at
least, of the United States herds of prong-horned antelope are afflicted
with a very deadly chronic infective disease known as actinomycosis, or
lumpy-jaw. It has been brought into the Zoological Park five times, by
specimens shipped from Colorado, Texas, Wyoming and Montana. I think our
first cases came to us in 1902.
In its early stage this disease is so subtle and slow that it is months
in developing; and this feature renders it all the more deadly, through
the spread of infection long before the ailment can be discovered.
One of our antelope arrivals, apparently in perfect health when
received, was on general principles kept isolated in rigid quarantine
for two months. At the expiration of that period, no disease of any kind
having become manifest, the animal was placed on exhibition, with two
others that had been in the Park for more than a year, in perfect
In one more week the late arrival developed a swelling on its jaw,
drooled at the corner of the mouth, and became feverish,--sure symptoms
of the dread disease. At once it was removed and isolated, but in about
10 days it died. The other two antelopes were promptly attacked, and
The course of the disease is very intense, and thus far it has proven
incurable in our wild animals. We have lost about 10 antelopes from it,
and one deer, usually, in each case, within ten days or two weeks from
the discovery of the first outward sign,--the well known swelling on the
jaw. One case that was detected immediately upon arrival was very
persistently treated by Dr. Blair, and the animal actually survived for
four months, but finally it succumbed. From first to last not a single
case was cured.
In 1912, the future of the prong-horned antelope in real captivity seems
hopeless. We have decided not to bring any more specimens to our
institution, partly because all available candidates seem reasonably
certain to be affected with lumpy-jaw, and partly because we are
unwilling to run further risks of having other hoofed animals inoculated
by them. Today we are anxiously wondering whether the jaw disease of the
prong-horn is destined to exterminate the species. Such a catastrophe is
much to be feared. This is probably one of the reasons why the antelope
is steadily disappearing, despite protection.
In 1906 we discovered the existence of actinomycosis among the black
mountain sheep of northern British Columbia. Two specimens out of six
were badly affected, the bones of the jaws being greatly enlarged, and
perforated by deep pits. The black sheep of the Stickine and Iskoot
regions are so seldom seen by white men, save when a sportsman kills his
allotment of three specimens, we really do not know anything about the
extent to which actinomycosis prevails in those herds, or how deadly are
its effects. One thing seems quite certain, from the appearance of the
diseased skulls found by the writer in the taxidermic laboratory of
Frederick Sauter, in New York. The enormous swelling of the diseased jaw
bones clearly indicates a disease that in some cases affects its victim
throughout many months. Such a condition as we found in those sheep
could not have been reached in a few days after the disease became
apparent. Now, in our antelopes, the collapse and death of the victim
usually occurred in about 10 days from the time that the first swelling
was observed: which means a very virulent disease, and rapid progress at
the climax. The jaw of one of our antelopes, which was figured in Dr.
Blair's paper in the Eleventh Annual Report of the New York Zoological
Society (1906) shows only a very slight lesion, in comparison with those
of the mountain sheep.
The conclusion is that among the sheep, this disease does not carry off
its victims in any short period like 10 days. The animal must survive
for some months after it becomes apparent. At least two parties of
American sportsmen have shot rams afflicted with this disease, but I
have no reports of any sheep having been found dead from this cause.
This disease is well known among domestic cattle, but so far as we are
aware it never before has been found among wild animals. The black sheep
herds wherein it was found in British Columbia are absolutely isolated
from domestic cattle and all their influences, and therefore it seems
quite certain that the disease developed among the sheep
spontaneously,--a remarkable episode, to say the least. Whether it will
exterminate the black mountain sheep species, and in time spread to the
white sheep of the northwest, is of course a matter of conjecture; but
there is nothing in the world to prevent a calamity of that kind. The
white sheep of Yukon Territory range southward until in the Sheslay
Mountains they touch the sphere of influence of the black sheep, where
the disease could easily be transmitted. It would be a good thing if
there existed between the two species a sheepless zone about 200 miles
I greatly fear that actinomycosis is destined to play an important part
in the final extinction that seems to be the impending fate of the
beautiful and valuable prong-horned antelope. In view of our hard
experiences, extending through ten years (1902-1912), I think this fear
is justified. All persons who live in country still inhabited by
antelope are urged to watch for this disease. If any antelopes are found
dead, see if the lower jaw is badly swollen and discharging pus. If it
is, bury the body quickly, burn the ground over, and advise the writer
regarding the case.
THE RABBIT PLAGUE.--One of the strangest freaks of Nature of which we
know as effecting the wholesale destruction of wild animals by disease
is the rabbit plague. In the northern wilderness, and particularly
central Canada, where rabbits exist in great numbers and supply the
wants of a large carnivorous population, this plague is well known, and
among trappers and woodsmen is a common topic of conversation. The best
treatment of the subject is to be found in Ernest T. Seton's "Life
Histories of Northern Animals", Vol. I, p. 640 et seq. From this I
"Invariably the year of greatest numbers [of rabbits] is followed by a
year of plague, which sweeps them away, leaving few or no rabbits in the
land. The denser the rabbit population, the more drastically is it
ravaged by the plague. They are wiped out in a single spring by
epidemic diseases usually characterized by swellings of the throat,
sores under the armpits and groins, and by diarrhea."
"The year 1885 was for the country around Carberry 'a rabbit year,' the
greatest ever known in that country. The number of rabbits was
incredible. W.R. Hine killed 75 in two hours, and estimated that he
could have killed 500 in a day. The farmers were stricken with fear that
the rabbit pest of Australia was to be repeated in Manitoba. But the
years 1886-7 changed all that. The rabbits died until their bodies
dotted the country in thousands. The plague seemed to kill all the
members of the vast host of 1885."
The strangest item of Mr. Seton's story is yet to be told. In 1890 Mr.
Seton stocked his park at Cos Cob, Conn., with hares and rabbits from
several widely separated localities. In 1903, the plague came and swept
them all away. Mr. Seton sent specimens to the Zoological Park for
examination by the Park veterinary surgeon, Dr. W. Reid Blair. They were
found to be infested by great numbers of a dangerous bloodsucking
parasite known as _Strongylus strigosus_, which produces death by anemia
and emaciation. There were hundreds of those parasites in each animal. I
assisted in the examination, and was shown by Dr. Blair, under the
microscope, that _Strongylus_ puts forth eggs literally by hundreds of
The life history of that parasite is not well known, but it may easily
develop that the cycle of its maximum destructiveness is seven years,
and therefore it may be accountable for the seven-year plague among the
hares and rabbits of the northern United States and Canada.
Possibly _Strongylus strigosus_ is all that stands between Canada and a
pest of rabbits like that of Australia. Just why this parasite is
inoperative in Australia, or why it has not been introduced there to
lessen the rabbit evil, we do not know. Mr. Seton declares that the
rabbits of his park were "subject to all the ills of the flesh, except
possibly writer's paralysis and housemaid's knee."
PARASITIC INFECTION OF WILD DUCKS.--The diseases of wild game,
especially waterfowl, grouse and quail, have caused heavy losses in
America as well as in European countries, and scientists have been
carefully investigating the cause and the general nature of the
maladies, as well as probable methods of prevention and cure. Mr. Geo.
Atkinson, a well-known practical naturalist of Portage la Prairie,
Manitoba, writes as follows to a local paper on this subject, which I
find quoted in the _National Sportsman_:
The question which has developed these important proportions during
the past year is that of the extent of the parasitic infection of
our wild ducks and other game, and the possibilities of the extended
transmission of these parasites to domestic stock, or even humanity,
The parasites in question are contained in small elliptical cases
found underlying the surface muscles of the breast, and in advanced
cases extending deeper into the flesh and the muscular tissues of
the legs and wings. They are not noticeable in the ordinary process
of plucking the bird for the table, and are not found internally, so
that the only method of discovering their presence is by slitting
the skin of the breast and paring it back a few inches when the
worm-like sacs will be seen buried in the flesh.
These parasites have come to my notice periodically during the
process of skinning birds for mounting during the past number of
years, but it was only when they appeared in unusual numbers last
fall that I made inquiries of the biological bureaus of Washington
and Ottawa for information of their life history and the
possibilities of their transmission to other hosts.
Replies from these sources surprised me with the information that
very little was known of the life history of any of the
Sarcosporidia, of which group this was a species. Nothing was known
of the method of infection or the transference from host to host or
species to species, and both departments asked for specimens for
Authorities are a unit in opinion that the question is one of great
importance to game conservation, and although opinions of the
dangers from eating differ somewhat, a record is given of a hog fed
upon affected flesh developing parasites in the muscles in six
weeks' time, while a case of a man's death from dropsy was found to
be the result of development of these parasites in the valves of the
The ability of these low forms of life to withstand extremes of heat
makes it necessary for more than ordinary cooking to be assured of
killing them, and since their presence is unnoted in the ordinary
course of dressing the birds for the table, there is little doubt
that very considerable numbers of these parasites are consumed at
our tables every season, with results at present unknown to us.
The species I have found most particularly infected have been
mallards, shovellers, teal, gadwall and pintails, and the birds,
outwardly in the best condition, have frequently been found loaded
with sacs of these parasites and only the turning back of the breast
skin can disclose their presence.
The greatest slaughter of wild ducks by disease occurred on Great Salt
Lake, Utah. Until the "duck disease" (intestinal coccidiosis) broke out
there, in the summer of 1910, the annual market slaughter of ducks at
the mouth of Bear River had been enormous. When at Salt Lake City in
1888 I made an effort to arouse the sportsmen whom I met to the
necessity of a reform, but my exhortations fell on deaf ears. Naturally,
the sweeping away of the remaining ducks by disease would suggest a
heaven-sent judgment upon the slaughterers were it not for the fact that
the last state of the unfortunate ducks is if anything worse than the
On Oct. 17, 1911, the annual report of the chief of the Biological
Survey contained the following information on this subject:
_Epidemic Among Wild Ducks on Great Salt Lake_.--Following a long
dry season, which favored the rearing of a large number of wild
ducks, but materially reduced the area of the feeding ponds,
resulting in great overcrowding, a severe epidemic broke out about
August 1, 1910, among the wild ducks about Great Salt Lake, Utah.
Dead ducks could be counted by thousands along the shores and the
disease raged unabated until late fall. Shooting clubs found it
necessary to declare a closed season. Some of the dead ducks were
forwarded to the Biological Survey and were turned over for
examination to the Bureau of Animal Industry, by the experts of
which the disease was diagnosed as intestinal coccidiosis.
Various plans of relieving the situation were tried. The irrigation
ditches were closed, thus providing the sloughs and ponds with fresh
water, and lime was sprinkled on the mud flats and duck trails.
Great improvement followed this treatment, and experiments proved
that ducks provided with abundant fresh water and clean food began
to recover immediately. These methods promised success, but later it
was proposed that the marshes be drained and exposed to the sun's
rays--a course which cannot be recommended. That coccidia are not
always killed by exposure to the sun is shown by their survival on
the sites of old chicken yards. An added disadvantage of the plan is
that draining and drying the marshes would have a bad effect on the
natural duck food, and upon the birds themselves.
* * * * *
DESTRUCTION OF WILD LIFE BY THE ELEMENTS
It is a fixed condition of Nature that whenever and wherever a wild
species exists in a state of nature, free from the trammels and
limitations that contact with man always imposes, the species is fitted
to survive all ordinary climatic influences. Freedom of action, and the
exercise of several options in the line of individual maintenance under
stress, is essential to the welfare of every wild species.
A prong-horned antelope herd that is free can drift before a blizzard,
can keep from freezing by the exercise, and eventually come to shelter.
Let that same herd drift against a barbed-wire fence five miles long,
and its whole scheme of self-preservation is upset. The herd perishes
then and there.
Cut out the undergrowth of a given section, drain the swamps and mow
down all the weeds and tall grass, and the next particularly hard winter
starves and freezes the quail.
Naturally the cutting of forests, clearing of brush and drainage of
marshes is more or less calamitous to all the species of birds that
inhabit such places and find there winter food and shelter. Red-winged
blackbirds and real estate booms can not inhabit the same swamps
contemporaneously. Before the relentless march of civilization, the wild
Indian, the bison and many of the wild birds must inevitably disappear.
We cannot change conditions that are as inexorable as death itself. The
wild life must either adjust itself to the conditions that civilized man
imposes upon it, or perish. I say "civilized man," for the reason that
the primitive races of man are not deadly exterminators of species, as
we are. I know of not one species of wild life that has been
exterminated by savage man without the aid of his civilized peers.
As civilization marches ever onward, over the prairies, into the bad
lands and the forests, over the mountains and even into the farthest
corner of Death Valley, the desert of deserts, the struggle of the wild
birds, mammals and fishes is daily and hourly intensified. Man must help
them to maintain themselves, or accept a lifeless continent. The best
help consists in letting the wild creatures throughly alone, so that
they can help themselves; but quail often need to be fed in critical
periods. The best food is wheat screenings placed under little tents of
straw, bringing food and shelter together.
In the well settled portions of the United States, such species as
quail, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, pinnated grouse and sage grouse hang
to life by slender threads. A winter of exceptionally deep snows, much
sleet, and a late spring always causes grave anxiety among the state
game wardens. In Pennsylvania a very earnest movement is in progress to
educate and persuade farmers to feed the quail in winter, and much good
is being done in that direction.
Mr. Erasmus Wilson, of the _Pittsburgh Gazette-Times_ is the apostle of
_Quail should be fed every winter, in every northern state_. The methods
to be pursued will be mentioned elsewhere.
By way of illustration, here is a sample game report, from Las Animas,
Colorado, Feb. 22, 1912:
"After the most severe winter weather experienced for twenty years we
are able to compute approximately our loss of feathered life. It is
seventy-five per cent of the quail throughout the irrigated district,
and about twenty per cent of meadow-larks. In the rough cedar-covered
sections south of the Arkansas River, the loss among the quail was much
lighter. The ground sparrows suffered severely, while the English
sparrow seems to have come through in good shape. Many cotton-tail
rabbits starved to death, while the deep, light snow of January made
them easy prey for hawks and coyotes." (F.T. Webber).
It would be possible to record many instances similar to the above, but
why multiply them? And now behold the cruel corollary:
At least twenty-five times during the past two years I have heard and
read arguments by sportsmen against my proposal for a 5-year close
season for quail, taking the ground that "The sportsmen are not wholly
to blame for the scarcity of quail. It is the cold winters that kill
So then, _because the fierce winters murder the bob white, wholesale,
they should not have a chance to recover themselves_! Could human beings
possibly assume a more absurd attitude?
Yes, it is coldly and incontestably true, that even after such winter
slaughter as Mr. Webber has reported above, the very next season will
find the quail hunter joyously taking the field, his face beaming with
health and good living, to hunt down and shoot to death as many as
possible of the pitiful 25 per cent remnant that managed to survive the
pitiless winter. How many quail hunters, think you, ever stayed their
hands because of "a hard winter on the quail?" I warrant not one out of
every hundred! How many states in this Union ever put on a close season
because of a hard winter? I'll warrant that not one ever did; and I
think there is only one state whose game commissioners have the power to
act in that way without recourse to the legislature. This situation is
Thanks to the splendid codified game laws enacted in New York state in
1912, our Conservation Commission can declare a close season in any
locality, for any length of time, when the state of the game demands an
emergency measure. This act is as follows; and it is a model law, which
every other state should speedily enact:
* * * * *
THE NEW YORK CLOSE-SEASON LAW.
_152. Petition for additional protection; notice of hearings; power
to grant additional protection; notice of prohibition or regulation;
_1. Petition for additional protection_. Any citizen of the state
may file with the commission a petition in writing requesting it to
give any species of fish, other than migratory food fish of the sea,
or game protected by law, additional or other protection than that
afforded by the provisions of this article. Such petition shall
state the grounds upon which such protection is considered
necessary, and shall be signed by the petitioner with his address.
_2. Notice of hearings_. The commission shall hold a public hearing
in the locality or county to be affected upon the allegations of
such petition within twenty days from the filing thereof. At least
ten days prior to such hearing notice thereof, stating the time and
place at which such hearing shall be held, shall be advertised in a
newspaper published in the county to be affected by such additional
or other protection. Such notice shall state the name and the
address of the petitioner, together with a brief statement of the
grounds upon which such application is made, and a copy thereof
shall be mailed to the petitioner at the address given in such
petition at least ten days before such hearing.
_3. Power to grant additional protection_. If upon such hearing the
commission shall determine that such species of fish or game, by
reason of disease, danger of extermination, or from any other cause
or reason, requires such additional or other protection, in any
locality or throughout the state, the commission shall have power to
prohibit or regulate, during the open season therefor, the taking of
such species of fish or game. Such prohibition or regulation may be
made general throughout the state or confined to a particular part
or district thereof.
_4. Notice of prohibition or regulation_. Any order made by the
commission under the provisions of this section shall be signed by
it, and entered in its minute book. At least thirty days before such
prohibition or regulation shall take effect, copies of the same
shall be filed in the office of the clerk issuing hunting and
trapping licenses for the district to which the prohibition or
regulation applies. It shall be the duty of said clerks to issue a
copy of said prohibition or regulation to each person to whom a
hunting or trapping license is issued by them; to mail a copy of
such prohibition or regulation to each holder of a hunting and
trapping license theretofore issued by them and at that time in
effect, and to post a copy thereof in a conspicuous place in their
office. At least thirty days before such prohibition or regulation
shall take effect the commission shall cause a notice thereof to be
advertised in a newspaper published in the county wherein such
prohibition or regulation shall take effect.
_5. Penalties_. Any person violating the provisions of such
prohibition, rule or regulation shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and
shall, upon conviction, be subject to a fine of not to exceed one
hundred dollars, or shall be imprisoned for not more than thirty
days, or both, for each offense, in addition to the penalties
hereinafter provided for taking fish, birds or quadrupeds in the
* * * * *
I want all sensible, honest sportsmen to stop citing the killing of game
birds by severe winters _as a reason_ why long close seasons are not
necessary, and why automatic guns "don't matter." And I want sportsmen
to consider their duty, and not go out hunting any game species that has
been slaughtered by a hard winter, until it has had at least five years
in which to recover. Any other course is cruel, selfish, and
shortsighted; and a word to the humane should be sufficient.
The worst exhibitions ever made of the wolfish instinct to slay that
springs eternal in some human (!) breasts are those brought about
through the distress or errors of wild animals. By way of illustration,
consider the slaughter of half-starved elk that took place in the edge
of Idaho in the winter of 1909 and 1910, when about seven hundred elk
that were driven out of the Yellowstone Park at its northwestern corner
by the deep snow, fled into Idaho in the hope of finding food. The
inhabitants met the starving herds with repeating rifles, and as the
unfortunate animals struggled westward through the snow and storm, they
were slaughtered without mercy. Bulls and cows, old and young, all of
the seven hundred, went down; and Stoney Indians could not have acted
any worse than did those "settlers."
On another occasion, it is recorded that the prong-horned antelope herd
of the Mammoth Hot Springs wandered across the line into Gardiner, and
quickly met a savage attack of gunners with rifles. A number of those
rare and valuable animals were killed, and others fled back into the
Park with broken legs dangling in the air.
In the interest of public decency, and for the protection of the
reputation of American citizenship, one of two things should be done.
The northern boundary of the Park should be extended northward beyond
Gardiner, or else the deathtrap should be moved elsewhere. The case of
the town of Gardiner is referred to the legislature of Montana for
Beyond question, the highest sentiments of humanity are those that are
stirred by the misfortunes of killable game. During the past thirty
years, I have noticed some interesting manifestations of the increased
sympathy for wild creatures that steadily is growing in a large section
of the public mind. Thirty years ago, the appearance of a deer or moose
in the streets of any eastern village nearly always was in itself a
signal for a grand chase of the unfortunate creature, and its speedy
slaughter. Today, in the eastern states, the general feeling is quite
different. The appearance of a deer in the Hudson River itself, or a
moose in a Maine village is a signal, not for a wild chase and cruel
slaughter, but for a general effort to save the animal from being hurt,
or killed. I know this through ocular proof, at least half a dozen lost
and bewildered deer having been carefully driven into yards, or barns,
and humanely kept and cared for until they could be shipped to us.
Several have been caught while swimming in the Hudson, bewildered and
panic-stricken. The latest capture occurred in New York City itself.
A puma that escaped (about 1902) from the Zoological Park, instead of
being shot was captured by sensible people in the hamlet of Bronxdale,
alive and unhurt, and safely returned to us.
In some portions of the east, though not all, the day of the hue and cry
over "a wild animal in town" seems to be about over. On Long Island some
humane persons found an injured turkey vulture, and took it in and cared
for it,--only to be persecuted by ill-advised game wardens, because they
had a forbidden wild bird "in their possession!" There are times when it
is the highest (moral) duty of a game warden to follow the advice of
Private Mulvaney to the "orficer boy," and "Shut yer oye to the
Such occurrences as these are becoming more and more common. _The desire
of "the great silent majority" is to SAVE the wild creatures_; and it
is in response to that sentiment that thousands of people are today in
the field against the Army of Destruction.
It is the duty of every sportsman to assist in promoting the passage of
a law like our New York law which empowers the State Game Commission to
throw extra protection around any species that has been slaughtered too
much by snow or by firearms, by closing the open season as long as may
be necessary. Can there be in all America even one thinking, reasoning
being who can not see the justice and also the imperative necessity of
this measure? It seems impossible.
Give the game the benefit of every doubt! If it becomes too thick, your
gun can quickly thin it out; but if it is once exterminated, it will be
impossible to bring it back. Be wise; and take thought for the morrow.
Remember the heath hen.
SLAUGHTER OF BLUEBIRDS.--In the late winter and early spring of 1896 the
wave of bluebirds was caught on its northward migration by a period of
unseasonably cold and fearfully tempestuous weather, involving much
icy-cold rain and sleet. Now, there is no other climatic condition that
is so hard for a wild bird or mammal to withstand as rain at the
freezing point, and a mantle of ice or frozen snow over all supplies of
The bluebirds perished by thousands. The loss occurred practically all
along their east-and-west line of migration, from Arkansas to the
Atlantic Coast. In places the species seemed almost exterminated; and it
was several years ere it recovered to a point even faintly approximating
its original population. I am quite certain that the species never has
recovered more than 50 per cent of the number that existed previous to
DUCK CHOLERA IN THE BRONX RIVER.--In 1911, some unknown but new and
particularly deadly element, probably introduced in sewage, contaminated
the waters of Bronx River where it flows through New York City, with
results very fatal in the Zoological Park. The large flock of mallard
ducks, Canada geese, and snow geese on Lake Agassiz was completely wiped
out. In all about 125 waterfowl died in rapid succession, from causes
commonly classed under the popular name of "duck cholera." The disease
was carried to other bodies of water in the Park that were fed from
other sources, but made no headway elsewhere than on lakes fed by the
polluted Bronx River.
Fortunately the work of the Bronx River Parkway Commission soon will
terminate the present very unsanitary condition of that stream.
WILD DUCKS IN DISTRESS.--In the winter of 1911-12, many flocks of wild
ducks decided to winter in the North. Many persons believe that this was
largely due to the prevention of late winter and spring shooting; which
seems reasonable. Unfortunately the winter referred to proved
exceptionally severe and formed vast sheets of thick ice over the
feeding-grounds where the ducks had expected to obtain their food. On
Cayuga, Seneca and other lakes in central New York, and on the island of
Martha's Vineyard, the flocks of ducks suffered very severely, and many
perished of hunger and cold. _But for the laws prohibiting late winter
shooting undoubtedly all of them would have been shot and eaten,
regardless of their distress_.
Game wardens and humane citizens made numerous efforts to feed the
starving flocks, and many ducks were saved in that way. An illustrated
article on the distressed ducks of Keuka Lake, by C. William Beebe and
Verdi Burtch, appeared in the _Zoological Society Bulletin_ for May,
1912. Fortunately there is every reason to believe that such occurrences
will be rare.
WILD SWANS SWEPT OVER NIAGARA FALLS.--During the past ten years, several
winter tragedies to birds have occurred on a large scale at Niagara
Falls. Whole flocks of whistling swans of from 20 up to 70 individuals
alighting in the Niagara River above the rapids have permitted
themselves to float down into the rapids, and be swept over the Falls,
en masse. On each occasion, the great majority of the birds were
drowned, or killed on the rocks. Of the very few that survived, few if
any were able to rise and fly out of the gorge below the Falls to
safety. It is my impression that about 200 swans recently have perished
in this strange way.
* * * * *
SLAUGHTER OF SONG-BIRDS BY ITALIANS
In these days of wild-life slaughter, we hear much of death and
destruction. Before our eyes there continually arise photographs of
hanging masses of waterfowl, grouse, pheasants, deer and fish, usually
supported in true heraldic fashion by the men who slew them and the
implements of slaughter. The world has become somewhat hardened to these
things, because the victims are classed as game; and in the destruction
of game, one game-bag more or less "Will not count in the news of the
The slaughter of song, insectivorous and all other birds by Italians and
other aliens from southern Europe has become a scourge to the bird life
of this country. The devilish work of the negroes and poor whites of the
South will be considered in the next chapter. In Italy, linnets and
sparrows are "game"; and so is everything else that wears feathers!
Italy is a continuous slaughtering-ground for the migratory birds of
Europe, and as such it is an international nuisance and a pest. The way
passerine birds are killed and eaten in that country is a disgrace to
the government of Italy, and a standing reproach to the throne. Even
kings and parliaments have no right in moral or international law to
permit year after year the wholesale slaughter of birds of passage of
species that no civilized man has a right to kill.
There are some tales of slaughter from which every properly-balanced
Christian mind is bound to recoil with horror. One such tale has
recently been given to us in the pages of the _Avicultural Magazine_, of
London, for January, 1912, by Mr. Hubert D. Astley, F.Z.S., whose word
no man will dispute. In condensing it, let us call it
* * * * *
THE ITALIAN SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS
This story does not concern game birds of any kind. Quite the contrary.
That it should be published in America, a land now rapidly filling up
with Italians, is a painful necessity in order that the people of
America may be enabled accurately to measure the fatherland traditions
and the fixed mental attitude of Italians generally toward our song
birds. I shall now hold a mirror up to Italian nature. If the image is
either hideous or grotesque, the fault will not be mine. I specially
commend the picture to the notice of American game wardens and judges on
The American reader must be reminded that the Italian peninsula reaches
out a long arm of land into the Mediterranean Sea for several hundred
miles toward the sunny Barbary coast of North Africa. This great
southward highway has been chosen by the birds of central Europe as
their favorite migration route. Especially is this true of the small
song-birds with weak wings and a minimum of power for long-sustained
flight. Naturally, they follow the peninsula down to the Italian Land's
End before they launch forth to dare the passage of the Mediterranean.
[Illustration: AN ITALIAN ROCCOLO, ON LAKE COMO
A Death-Trap for Song-Birds. From the Avicultural Magazine]
Italy is the narrow end of a great continental funnel, into the wide
northern end of which Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland annually
pour their volume of migratory bird life. And what is the result? For
answer let us take the testimony of two reliable witnesses, and file it
for use on the day when Tony Macchewin, gun in hand and pockets bulging
with cartridges, goes afield in our country and opens fire on our birds.
The linnet is one of the sweet singers of Europe. It is a small,
delicately formed, weak-winged little bird, about the size of our
phoebe-bird. It weighs only a trifle more than a girl's love-letter.
Where it breeds and rears its young, in Germany for example, a true
sportsman would no more think of shooting a linnet than he would of
killing and eating his daughter's dearest canary.
To the migrating bird, the approach to northern Italy, either going or
returning, is not through a land of plenty. The sheltering forests have
mostly been swept away, and safe shelters for small birds are very rare.
In the open, there are owls and hawks; and the only refuge from either
is the thick-leafed grove, into which linnets and pipits can dive at the
approach of danger and quickly hide.
A linnet from the North after days of dangerous travel finally reached
Lake Como, southward bound. The country was much too open for safety,
and its first impulse was to look about for safe shelter. The low bushes
that sparsely covered the steep hillsides were too thin for refuge in
times of sudden danger.
Ah! Upon a hilltop is a little grove of trees, green and inviting. In
the grove a bird is calling, calling, insistently. The trees are very
small; but they seem to stand thickly together, and their foliage should
afford a haven from both hawk and gunner. To it joyously flits the tired
linnet. As it perches aloft upon a convenient whip-like wand, it notices
for the first time a queer, square brick tower of small dimensions,
rising in the center of a court-yard surrounded by trees. The tower is
like an old and dingy turret that has been shorn from a castle, and set
on the hilltop without apparent reason. It is two stories in height,
with one window, dingy and uninviting. A door opens into its base.
Several birds that seem very near, but are invisible, frequently call
and chirp, as if seeking answering calls and companionship. Surely the
grove must be a safe place for birds, or they would not be here.
Hark! A whirring, whistling sound fills the air, like the air tone of a
flying hawk's wings. A hawk! A hawk!
Down plunges the scared linnet, blindly, frantically, into the space
sheltered by the grove!
Horrors! What is this?
Threads! Invisible, interlacing threads; tangled and full of pockets,
treacherously spanning the open space. It is a fowler's net! The linnet
is entangled. It flutters frantically but helplessly, and hangs there,
caught. Its alarm cry is frantically answered by the two strange,
invisible bird voices that come from the top of the tower!
The grove and the tower are A ROCCOLO! A huge, permanent, merciless,
deadly _trap_, for the wholesale capture of songbirds! The tower is the
hiding place of the fowler, and the calling birds are decoy birds whose
eyes have been totally blinded by red-hot wires in order that they will
call more frantically than birds with eyes would do. The whistling wings
that seemed a hawk were a sham, made by a racquet thrown through the air
by the fowler, through a slot in his tower. He keeps by him many such
The door of the tower opens, and out comes the fowler. He is lowbrowed,
swarthy, ill kept, and wears rings in his ears. A soiled hand seizes the
struggling linnet, and drags it violently from the threads that
entangled it. A sharp-pointed twig is thrust straight through the head
of the helpless victim _at the eyes_, and after one wild, fluttering
agony--it is dead.
The fowler sighs contentedly, re-enters his dirty and foul-smelling
tower, tosses the feathered atom upon the pile of dead birds that lies
upon the dirty floor in a dirty corner,--and is ready for the next one.
Ask him, as did Mr. Astley, and he will tell you frankly that there are
about 150 dead birds in the pile,--starlings, sparrows, linnets,
greenfinches, chaffinches, goldfinches, hawfinches, redstarts,
blackcaps, robins, song thrushes, blackbirds, blue and coal tits,
fieldfares and redwings. He will tell you also, that there are _seven
other roccolos within sight and twelve within easy walking distance_. He
will tell you, as he did Mr. Astley, that during that week he had taken
about 500 birds, and that that number was a fair average for each of the
12 other roccolos.
This means the destruction of about 5,000 songbirds per week _in that
neighborhood alone!_ Another keeper of a roccolo told Mr. Astley that
during the previous autumn he took about 10,000 birds at his small and
comparatively insignificant roccolo.
And above that awful roccolo of slaughtered innocents rose _a wooden
cross_, in memory of Christ, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
Around the interior of the entwined sapling tops that formed the fatal
bower of death there hung a semicircle of tiny cages containing live
decoys,--chaffinches, hawfinches, titmice and several other species.
"The older and staider ones call repeatedly," says Mr. Astley, "and the
chaffinches break into song. It is the only song to be heard in Italy at
the time of the autum migration."
And the King of Italy, the Queen of Italy, the Parliament of Italy and
His Holiness the Pope permit these things, year in and year out. It is
now said, however, that through the efforts of a recently organized
bird-lovers' society in Italy, the blinding of decoy birds for roccolos
is to be stopped.
In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, the protection of these birds
during their breeding season must be very effective, for otherwise the
supply for the Italian slaughter of the Innocents would long ago have
fallen to nothing.
The Germans love birds, and all wild life. I wonder how they like the
Italian roccolo. I wonder how France regards it; and whether the nations
of Europe north of Italy will endure this situation forever.
To the American and English reader, comment on the practices recorded
above is quite unnecessary, except the observation that they betoken a
callousness of feeling and a depth of cruelty and destructiveness to
which, so far as known, no savages ever yet have sunk. As an exhibit of
the groveling pusillanimity of the human soul, the roccolo of northern
Italy reveals minus qualities which can not be expressed either in words
or in figures.
And what is the final exhibit of the gallant knight of the roccolo, the
feudal lord of the modern castle and its retainers?
The answer is given by Dr. Louis B. Bishop, in an article on "Birds in
the Markets of Southern Europe."
In Venice, which was visited in October and November, during the fall
migration, he found on sale in the markets, as food, thousands of
"Birds were there in profusion, from ducks to kites, in the early
morning, hung in great bunches above the stalls, but by 9 A.M. most of
them had been sold. Ducks and shorebirds occurred in some numbers, but
the vast majority were small sparrows, larks and thrushes. These were
there during my visit by the thousands, if not ten thousands. To the
market they were brought in large sacks, strung in fours on twigs which
had been passed through the eyes and then tied. Most of these small
birds had been trapped, and on skinning them I often could find no
injury except at their eyes.[C] One of these sacks which I examined on
November 3, contained hundreds of birds, largely siskins, skylarks and
bramblings. As a rule the small birds that were not sold in the early
morning were skinned or picked, and their tiny bodies packed in regular
order, breasts up, in shadow tin boxes, and exposed for sale."
[Footnote C: It is probable that these birds were killed by piercing the
head through the eyes.]
"During these visits to the Venetian markets, I identified 60 species,
and procured specimens of most. As nearly as I can remember, small birds
cost from two to five cents apiece. For example I paid $2.15 on Nov. 8,
1 Woodcock, 1 Skylark,
1 Jay, 1 Greenfinch,
2 Starlings, 1 Bullfinch,
2 Spotted Crakes, 1 Redpoll.
1 Song Thrush, 3 Linnets,
1 Gold-Crest, 2 Goldfinches,
1 Long-Tailed Titmouse, 6 Siskins,
1 Great Titmouse, 3 Reed Buntings,
1 Pipit, 3 Bramblings,
1 Redstart, --and 5 Chaffinches.
"On November 10, I paid $3.25 for
2 Coots, 1 European Curlew,
1 Water Rail, 2 Kingfishers,
1 Spotted Crake, 2 Greenfinches,
1 Sparrow Hawk, 2 Wrens,
2 Woodcock, 2 Great Titmouse,
1 Common Redshank, 2 Blue Titmouse,
1 Dusky Redshank, 1 Redbreast, and
Of course there were various species of upland game birds, shore-birds
and waterfowl,--everything, in fact, that could be found and killed. In
addition to the passerine birds listed above. Dr. Bishop noted the
following, all in Venice alone:
Skylark ("in great numbers"),
Crested Lark, Crossbill,
Calandra, House Sparrow,
Tree Sparrow, Stonechat,
Blackbird, Rock Pipit,
Fieldfare, White Wagtail,
Song Thrush, Redwing.
"In Florence," says Dr. Bishop, "I visited the central market on
November 26, 28, 29, 30, December 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, and found
birds even more plentiful than in Venice." Besides a variety of game
birds, he found quantities of the species mentioned above, seen in
Venice, and also the following:
Green Sandpiper, Brown Creeper,
Magpie, Black-Cap Warbler,
Corn Bunting, Black-Headed Warbler,
Migratory Quail, Fantail Warbler,
Green Woodpecker, Missel Thrush,
Spotted Woodpecker, Ring Ouzel,
Wood Lark, Rock Sparrow, and
"Here, too [at Florence] we saw often, bunches and baskets of small
birds, chiefly redbreasts, hawked through the streets.... Every Sunday
that we went into the country we met numbers of Italians out shooting,
and their bags seemed to consist wholly of small birds.
"At Genoa, San Remo, Monte Carlo and Nice, between December 13 and 29, I
did not visit the central markets, if such exist, but saw frequently
bunches of small birds hanging outside stores.... A gentleman who spent
the fall on an automobile trip through the west of FRANCE _from Brittany
to the Pyrenees, tells me he noticed these bunches of small birds on
sale in every town he visited_.
"That killing song-birds for food," continues Dr. Bishop, "is not
confined to the poor Italians I learned on October 27, when one of the
most prominent and wealthy Italian _ornithologists_--a delightful
man--told me he had shot 180 skylarks and pipits the day before, and
that his family liked them far better than other game. Our prejudice
against selling game does not exist in Europe, and this same
ornithologist told me he often shot 200 ducks in a day at his
shooting-box, sending to the market what he could not use himself. On
November 1, 1910, he shot 82 ducks, and on November 8, 103, chiefly
widgeon and teal."
An "ornithologist" indeed! A "sportsman" also, is he not? He belongs
with his brother "ornithologists" of the roccolos, who net their "game"
with the aid of _blind_ birds! Brave men, gallant "sportsmen," are these
men of Italy,--and western France also if the tale is true!
If the people of Europe can stand the wholesale, systematic slaughter of
their song and insectivorous birds, _we can_! If they are too
mean-spirited to rise up, make a row about it, and stop it, then let
them pay the price; but, by the Eternal, Antonio shall not come to this
country with the song-bird tastes of the roccolo and indulge them here!
The above facts have been cited, not at all for the benefit of Europe,
but for our own good. The American People are now confronted by the
Italian and Austrian and Hungarian laborer and saloon-keeper and
mechanic, and all Americans should have an exact measure of the
sentiments of southern Europe toward our wild life generally, especially
the birds that we do not shoot at all, _and therefore are easy to kill_.
When a warden or a citizen arrests an alien for killing any of our
non-game birds, show the judge these records of how they do things in
Italy, and ask for the extreme penalty.
I have taken pains to publish the above facts from eye-witnesses in
order that every game commissioner, game warden and state legislator who
reads these pages may know exactly what he is "up against" in the alien
population of our country from southern Europe. For unnumbered
generations, the people of Italy have been taught to believe that it is
_perfectly right_ to shoot and devour every song-bird that flies. The
Venetian is no respecter of species; and when an Italian "ornithologist"
(!) can go out and murder 180 linnets and pipits in one day for the pot,
it is time for Americans to think hard.
We sincerely hope that it will not require blows and kicks and fines to
remove from Antonio's head the idea that America is not Italy, and that
the slaughter of song birds "don't go" in this country. I strongly
recommend to every state the enactment of a law that will do these
1.--Prohibit the owning, carrying or use of firearms by aliens, and
2.--Prohibit the use of firearms in hunting by any naturalized alien
from southern Europe until after a 10-years' residence in America.
From reports that have come to me at first hand regarding Italians in
the East, Hungarians in Pennsylvania and Austrians in Minnesota, it
seems absolutely certain that all members of the lower classes of
southern Europe are a dangerous menace to our wild life.
On account of the now-accursed land-of-liberty idea, every foreigner
who sails past the statue on Bedloe's Island and lands on our
liberty-ridden shore, is firmly convinced that _now, at last_, he can do
as he pleases! And as one of his first ways in which to show his
newly-acquired personal liberty and independence in the Land of Easy
Marks, he buys a gun and goes out to shoot "free game!"
If we, as a people, are so indolent and so somnolent that Antonio gets
away with all our wild birds, then do we deserve to be robbed.
Italians are pouring into America in a steady stream. They are strong,
prolific, persistent and of tireless energy. New York City now contains
340,000 of them. They work while the native Americans sleep. Wherever
they settle, their tendency is to root out the native American and take
his place and his income. Toward wild life the Italian laborer is a
human mongoose. Give him power to act, and he will quickly exterminate
every wild thing that wears feathers or hair. To our songbirds he is
literally a "pestilence that walketh at noonday".
As we have shown, the Italian is a born pot-hunter, and he has grown up
in the fixed belief that killing song-birds for food is right! To him
all is game that goes into the bag. The moment he sets foot in the open,
he provides himself with a shot-gun, and he looks about for things to
kill. It is "a free country;" therefore, he may kill anything he can
find, cook it and eat it. If anybody attempts to check him,--sapristi!
beware his gun! He cheerfully invades your fields, and even your lawn;
and he shoots robins, bluebirds, thrushes, catbirds, grosbeaks,
tanagers, orioles, woodpeckers, quail, snipe, ducks, crows, and herons.
Down in Virginia, near Charlottesville, an Italian who was working on a
new railroad once killed a turkey buzzard; and he selfishly cooked it
and ate it, all alone. A pot-hunting compatriot of his heard of it, and
reproached him for having-dined on game in camera. In the quarrel that
ensued, one of the "sportsmen" stabbed the other to death.
When the New York Zoological Society began work on its Park in 1899, the
northern half of the Borough of the Bronx was a regular daily
hunting-ground for the slaughter of song-birds, and all other birds that
could be found. Every Sunday it was "bangetty!" "bang!" from Pelham Bay
to Van Cortlandt. The police force paid not the slightest attention to
these open, flagrant, shameless violations of the city ordinances and
the state bird laws. In those days I never but once heard of a policeman
_on his own initiative_ arresting a birdshooter, even on Sunday; but
whenever meddlesome special wardens from the Zoological Park have
pointedly called upon the local police force for help, it has always
been given with cheerful alacrity. In the fall of 1912 an appeal to the
Police Commissioner resulted in a general order to stop all hunting and
shooting in the Borough of the Bronx, and a reform is now on.
The war on the bird-killers in New York City began in 1900. It seemed
that if the Zoological Society did not take up the matter, the slaughter
would continue indefinitely. The white man's burden was taken up; and
the story of the war is rather illuminating. Mr. G.O. Shields,
President of the League of American Sportsmen, quickly became interested
in the matter, and entered actively into the campaign. For months
unnumbered, he spent every Sunday patroling the woods and thickets of
northern New York and Westchester county, usually accompanied by John J.
Rose and Rudolph Bell of the Zoological Park force, for whom
appointments as deputy game wardens had been secured from the State.
The adventures of that redoubtable trio of man-hunters would make an
interesting chapter. They were shot at by poachers, but more frequently
they shot at the other fellows. Just why it was that no one was killed,
no one seems to know. Many Italians and several Americans were arrested
while hunting, haled to court, prosecuted and fined. Finally, a reign of
terror set in; and that was the beginning of the end. It became known
that those three men could not be stopped by threats, and that they
always got their man--unless he got into a human rabbit-warren of the
Italian boarding-house species. That was the only escape that was
The largest haul of dead birds was 43 robins, orioles, thrushes and
woodpeckers, captured along with the five Italians who committed the
indiscretion of sitting down in the woods to divide their dead birds. We
saved all the birds in alcohol, and showed them in court. The judge
fined two of the Italians $50 each, and the other three were sent to the
penitentiary for two months each.
Even yet, however, at long intervals an occasional son of sunny Italy
tries his luck at Sunday bird shooting; but if anyone yells at him to
"Halt!" he throws away his gun and stampedes through the brush like a
frightened deer. The birds of upper New York are now fairly secure; but
it has taken ten years of fighting to bring it about.
Throughout New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut,
Massachusetts, and even Minnesota, wherever there are large settlements
of Italians and Hungarians, the reports are the same. They swarm through
the country every Sunday, and shoot every wild thing they see. Wherever
there are large construction works,--railroads, canals or
aqueducts,--look for bird slaughter, and you are sure to find it. The
exception to this rule, so far as I know, is along the line of the new
Catskill aqueduct, coming to New York City. The contractors have elected
not to permit bird slaughter, and the rule has been made that any man
who goes out hunting will instantly be discharged. That is the best rule
that ever was made for the protection of birds and game against
Let every state and province in America look out sharply for the
bird-killing foreigner; for sooner or later, he will surely attack your
wild life. The Italians are spreading, spreading, spreading. If you are
without them to-day, to-morrow they will be around you. Meet them at the
threshold with drastic laws, throughly enforced; for no half way
measures will answer.
Pennsylvania has had the worst experience of alien slaughterers of any
state, thus far. _Six_ of her game wardens have been _killed_, and eight
or ten have been wounded, by shooting! Finally her legislature arose in
wrath, and passed a law prohibiting the ownership or possession of guns
of any kind by aliens. The law gives the right of domiciliary search,
and it surely is enforced. Of course the foreign population "kicked"
against the law, but the People's steam roller went over them just the
same. In New York, we require from an alien a license costing $20, and
it has saved a million (perhaps) of our birds; but the Pennsylvania law
is the best. It may be taken as a model for every state and province in
America. Its text is as follows:
Section I. Be it enacted, &c., That from and after the passage of
this act, it shall be unlawful for any unnaturalized foreign-born
resident to hunt for or capture or kill, in this Commonwealth, any
wild bird or animal, either game or otherwise, of any description,
excepting in defense of person or property; and to that end it shall
be unlawful for any unnaturalized foreign-born resident, within this
Commonwealth, to either own or be possessed of a shotgun or rifle of
any make. Each and every person violating any provision of this
section shall, upon conviction thereof, be sentenced to pay a
penalty of twenty-five dollars for each offense, or undergo
imprisonment in the common jail of the county for the period of one
day for each dollar of penalty imposed. Provided, That in addition
to the before-named penalty, all guns of the before-mentioned kinds
found in possession or under control of an unnaturalized
foreign-born resident shall, upon conviction of such person, or upon
his signing a declaration of guilt as prescribed by this act, be
declared forfeited to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and shall be
sold by the Board of Game Commissioners as hereinafter directed.
Section 2. For the purpose of this act, any unnaturalized
foreign-born person who shall reside or live within the boundaries
of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for ten consecutive days shall
be considered a resident and shall be liable to the penalties
imposed for violation of the provisions of this act.
Section 3. That the possession of a shotgun or rifle at any place
outside of a building, within this Commonwealth, by an unnaturalized
foreign-born resident, shall be conclusive proof of a violation of
the provisions of section one of this act, and shall render any
person convicted thereof liable to the penalty as fixed by said
Section 4. That the presence of a shotgun or rifle in a room or
house, or building or tent, or camp of any description, within this
Commonwealth, occupied by or controlled by an unnaturalized
foreign-born resident shall be prima facie evidence that such gun is
owned or controlled by the person occupying or controlling the
property in which such gun is found, and shall render such person
liable to the penalty imposed by section one of this act.
Other sections provide for the full enforcement of this law.
It is now high time, and an imperative public necessity, that every
state should act in this matter, before its bird life is suddenly
attacked, and serious inroads made upon it. Do it NOW! The enemy is
headed your way. Don't wait for him to strike the first blow!
_Duty of the Italian Press and Clergy_.--Now what is the best remedy for
the troubles that will arise for Italians in America because of wrong
principles established in Italy? It is not in the law, the police, the
court and the punishment. It is in _educating the Italian into a
knowledge of the duties of the good citizen_! The Italian press and
clergy can do this; and _no one else can do it so easily, so quickly and
Those two powerful forces should enter seriously upon this task. In
every other respect, the naturalized Italian tries to become a good
citizen, and adjust himself to the laws and the customs of his new
country. Why should he not do this in regard to bird life? It is not too
much to ask, nor is it too much to _exact_. Does the Italian workman, or
store-keeper who makes his living by honest toil _enjoy_ breaking our
bird laws, _enjoy_ irritating and injuring those with whom he has come
to live? Does he _enjoy_ being watched, and searched, and chased, and
arrested,--all for a few small birds that he _does not need_ for food?
He earns good wages; he has plenty of good food; and he must be
_educated_ into protecting our birds instead of destroying them. The
Italian newspapers and clergy have a serious duty to perform in this
matter, and we hope they will diligently discharge it.
[Illustration: DEAD SONG-BIRDS
These jars contain the dead bodies of 43 valuable insectivorous birds
that were taken from two Italians in October, 1905, in the suburbs of
New York City, by game wardens of the New York Zoological Society.]
* * * * *
DESTRUCTION OF SONG BIRDS BY SOUTHERN NEGROES AND POOR WHITES
Before going farther, there is one point that I wish to make quite
Whenever the people of a particular race make a specialty of some
particular type of wrong-doing, anyone who pointedly rebukes the faulty
members of that race is immediately accused of "race prejudice." On
account of the facts I am now setting forth about the doings of Italian
and negro bird-killers, I expect to be accused along that line. If I am,
I shall strenuously deny the charge. The facts speak for themselves.
Zoologically, however, I am strongly prejudiced against the people of
any race, creed, club, state or nation who make a specialty of any
particularly offensive type of bird or wild animal slaughter; and I do
not care who knows it.
The time was, and I remember it very well, when even the poorest gunner
scorned to kill birds that were not considered "game." In days lang
syne, many a zoological collector has been jeered because the specimens
he had killed for preservation were not "game."
But times have changed. In the wearing of furs, we have bumped down
steps both high and steep. In 1880 American women wore sealskin, marten,
otter, beaver and mink. To-day nothing that wears hair is too humble to
be skinned and worn. To-day "they are wearing" skins of muskrats, foxes,
rabbits, skunks, domestic cats, squirrels, and even rats. And see how
the taste for game,--of some sections of our population,--also has gone
In the North, the Italians are fighting for the privilege of eating
everything that wears feathers; but we allow no birds to be shot for
food save game birds and cranes. In the South, the negroes and poor
whites are killing song-birds, woodpeckers and doves for food; and in
several states some of it is done under the authority of the laws. Look
at these awful lists:
* * * * *
IN THESE STATES, ROBINS ARE LEGALLY SHOT AND EATEN:
Louisiana North Carolina Tennessee Texas
Mississippi South Carolina Maryland Florida
IN THESE STATES, BLACKBIRDS ARE LEGALLY SHOT AND EATEN:
Louisiana Pennsylvania Tennessee
District of Columbia South Carolina
CRANES ARE SHOT AND EATEN IN THESE STATES:
Colorado North Dakota Nevada Oklahoma Nebraska
In Mississippi, the _cedar bird_ is legally shot and eaten! In North
Carolina, the meadow lark is shot and eaten.
IN THE FOLLOWING STATES, DOVES ARE CONSIDERED "GAME," AND ARE SHOT IN AN
Alabama Georgia Minnesota Ohio
Arkansas Idaho Mississippi Oregon
California Illinois Missouri Pennsylvania
Connecticut Kentucky Nebraska South Carolina
Delaware Louisiana New Mexico Tennessee
Dist. of Columbia Maryland North Carolina Texas
* * * * *
The killing of doves represents a great and widespread decline in the
ethics of sportsmanship. In the twenty-six States named, a great many
men who _call_ themselves sportsmen indulge in the cheap and ignoble
pastime of potting weak and confiding doves. It is on a par with the
"sport" of hunting English sparrows in a city street. Of course this is,
to a certain extent, a matter of taste; but there is at least one club
of sportsmen into which no dove-killer can enter, provided his standard
of ethics is known in advance.
With the killing of robins, larks, blackbirds and cedar birds for food,
the case is quite different. No white man calling himself a sportsman
ever indulges in such low pastimes as the killing of such birds for
food. That burden of disgrace rests upon the negroes and poor whites of
the South; but at the same time, it is a shame that respectable white
men sitting in state legislatures should deliberately enact laws
_permitting_ such disgraceful practices, or permit such disgraceful and
ungentlemanly laws to remain in force!
Here is a case by way of illustration, copied very recently from the
Editor _Journal_:--I located a robin roost up the Trinity River, six
miles from Dallas, and prevailed on six Dallas sportsmen to go with
me on a torch-light bird hunt. This style of hunting was, of course,
new to the Texans, but they finally consented to go, and I had the
pleasure of showing them how it was done.
Equipped with torch lights and shot guns, we proceeded. After
reaching the hunting grounds the sport began in reality, and
continued for two hours and ten minutes, with a total slaughter of
10,157 birds, an average of 1,451 birds killed by each man.
But the Texans give me credit for killing at least 2,000 of the
entire number. I was called 'the king of bird hunters' by the
sportsmen of Dallas, Texas, and have been invited to
command-in-chief the next party of hunters which go from Dallas to
the Indian Territory in search of large game.--F.L. CROW, Dallas,
Texas, former Atlantan.
Dallas, Texas, papers and Oklahoma papers, please copy!
As a further illustration of the spirit manifested in the South toward
robins, I quote the following story from Dr. P.P. Claxton, of the
University of Tennessee, as related in Audubon Educational Leaflet No.
46, by Mr. T. Gilbert Pearson:--
"The roost to which I refer," says Professor Claxton, "was situated in
what is locally known as a 'cedar glade,' near Porestville, Bedford Co.,
Tennessee. This is a great cedar country, and robins used to come in
immense numbers during the winter months, to feed on the berries.
[Illustration: THE ROBIN OF THE NORTH
Our best-beloved Song Bird, now being legally shot as "game" in the
South. In the North there is now only one robin for every ten formerly
"The spot which the roost occupied was not unlike numerous others that
might have been selected. The trees grew to a height of from five to
thirty feet, and for a mile square were literally loaded at night with
robins. Hunting them while they roosted was a favorite sport. A man
would climb a cedar tree with a torch, while his companions with poles
and clubs would disturb the sleeping birds on the adjacent trees.
Blinded by the light, the suddenly awakened birds flew to the
torch-bearer; who, _as he seized each bird would quickly pull off its
head_, and drop it into a sack suspended from his shoulders.
[Illustration: THE MOCKING-BIRD OF THE SOUTH
This sweet singer of the South is NOT being shot in the North
for food! No northern lawmaker ever will permit such barbarity.]
"The capture of three of four hundred birds was an ordinary night's
work. Men and boys would come in wagons from all the adjoining counties
and camp near the roost for the purpose of killing robins. Many times,
100 or more hunters with torches and clubs would be at work in a single
night. _For three years_ this tremendous slaughter continued in
winter,--and then the survivors deserted the roost."
[Illustration: NORTHERN ROBINS READY FOR SOUTHERN SLAUGHTER
195 Birds at Avery Island, La. in January 1912, Photographed Daring the
Annual Slaughter, by E.A. McIlhenny]
No: these people were not Apache Indians, led by a Geronimo who knew no
mercy, no compassion. We imagine that they were mostly poor white trash,
of Tennessee. One small hamlet sent to market annually enough dead
robins to return $500 at _five cents per dozen_; which means _120,000
Last winter Mr. Edward A. McIlhenny of Avery Island, La. (south of New
Iberia) informed me that every winter, during the two weeks that the
holly berries are ripe thousands of robins come to his vicinity to feed
upon them. "Then every negro man and boy who can raise a gun is after
them. About 10,000 robins are slaughtered each day while they remain.
Their dead bodies are sold in New Iberia at 10 cents each." The
accompanying illustrations taken by Mr. McIlhenny shows 195 robins on
one tree, and explains how such great slaughter is possible.
An officer of the Louisiana Audubon Society states that a conservative
estimate of the number of robins annually killed in Louisiana for food
purposes when they are usually plentiful, is a _quarter of a million_!
The food of the robin is as follows:
Insects, 40 per cent; wild fruit, 43 per cent; cultivated fruit, 8 per
cent, miscellaneous vegetable food, 5 per cent.
SPECIAL WORK OF THE SOUTHERN NEGROES.--In 1912 a female colored servant
who recently had arrived from country life in Virginia chanced to remark
to me at our country home in the middle of August: "I wish I could find
some birds' nests!"
"What for?" I asked, rather puzzled.
"Why, to get the aigs and _eat 'em!_" she responded with a bright smile
and flashing teeth.
"Do you eat the eggs of _wild_ birds?"
"Yes indeed! It's _fine_ to get a pattridge nest! From them we nearly
always git a whole dozen of aigs at once,--back where I live, in
"Do the colored people of Virginia make a _practice_ of hunting for the
eggs of wild birds, and eating them?"
"Yes, indeed we do. In the spring and summer, when the birds are around,
we used to get out every Sunday, and hunt all day. Some days we'd come
back with a whole bucket full of aigs; and then we'd set up half the
night, cookin' and eatin' 'em. They was _awful_ good!"
Her face fairly beamed at the memory of it.
A few days later, this story of the doings of Virginia negroes was fully
corroborated by a colored man who came from another section of that
state. Three months later, after special inquiries made at my request, a
gentleman of Richmond obtained further corroboration, from negroes. He
was himself much surprised by the state of fact that was revealed to
In the North, the economic value of our song birds and other destroyers
of insects and weed seeds is understood by a majority of the people, and
as far as possible those birds are protected from all human enemies. But
in the South, a new division of the Army of Destruction has risen into
In _Recreation_ Magazine for May, 1909, Mr. Charles Askins published a
most startling and illuminating article, entitled "The South's Problem
in Game Protection." It brought together in concrete form and with
eye-witness reliability the impressions that for months previous had
been gaining ground in the North. In order to give the testimony of a
man who has seen what he describes, I shall now give numerous quotations
from Mr. Askins' article, which certainly bears the stamp of
truthfulness, without any "race prejudice" whatever. It is a calm,
judicial, unemotional analysis of a very bad situation: and I
particularly commend it alike to the farmers of the North and all the
true sportsmen of the South.
In his opening paragraphs Mr. Askins describes game and hunting
conditions in the South as they were down to twenty years ago, when the
negroes were too poor to own guns, and shooting was not for them.
* * * * *
SPECIAL WORK OF THE SOUTHERN NEGROES.
It is all different now, says Mr. Askins, and the old days will only
come back with the water that has gone down the stream. The master
is with his fathers or he is whiling away his last days on the
courthouse steps of the town. Perhaps a chimney or two remain of
what was once the "big house" on the hill; possibly it is still
standing, but as forlorn and lifeless as a dead tree. The muscadine
grapes still grow in the swale and the persimmons in the pasture
field, but neither 'possum nor 'coon is left to eat them. The last
deer vanished years ago, the rabbits died in their baby coats and
the quail were killed in June. Old "Uncle Ike" has gone across the
"Great River" with his master, and his grandson glances at you
askance, nods sullenly, whistles to his half breed bird dog,
shoulders his three dollar gun and leaves you. He is typical of the
change and has caused it, this grandson of dear old Uncle Ike.
In the same way the white man is telling the black to abide upon the
plantation raising cotton and corn, and further than this nothing
will be required of him. He can cheat a white man or a black, steal
in a petty way anything that comes handy, live in marriage or out of
it to please himself, kill another negro if he likes, and lastly
shoot every wild thing that can be eaten, if only he raises the
cotton and the corn. But the white sportsmen of the South have never
willingly granted the shooting privilege in its entirety, and hence
this story. They have told him to trap the rabbits, pot the robins,
slaughter the doves, kill the song birds, but to spare the white
sportsman's game, the aristocratic little bobwhite quail.
In the beginning not so much damage to southern game interests could
be accomplished by our colored man and brother, however decided his
inclinations. He had no money, no ammunition and no gun. His weapons
were an ax, a club, a trap, and a hound dog; possibly he might own
an old war musket bored out for shot. Such an outfit was not adapted
to quail shooting and especially to wing shooting, with which
knowledge Dixie's sportsmen were content. Let the negro ramble about
with his hound dog and his war musket; he couldn't possibly kill the
quail. And so Uncle Ike's grandson loafed and pottered about in the
fields with his ax and his hound dogs, not doing so much harm to the
quail but acquiring knowledge of the habits of the birds and skill
as a still-hunting pot-hunter that would serve him well later on.
The negro belongs to a primitive race of people and all such races
have keener eyes than white men whose fathers have pored over lines
of black and white. He learned to see the rabbit in its form, the
squirrels in the leafy trees, and the quails huddled in the grass.
The least shade of gray in the shadow of the creek bank he
distinguished at once as a rabbit, a glinting flash from a tree top
he knew instantly as being caused by the slight movement of a hidden
squirrel, and the quiver of a single stem of sedge grass told him of
a bevy of birds hiding in the depths. The pot-hunting negro has all
the skill of the Indian, has more industry in his loafing, and kills
without pity and without restraint. This grandson of Uncle Ike was
growing sulky, too, with the knowledge that the white man was
bribing him with half a loaf to raise cotton and corn when he might
as well exact it all. And this he shortly did, as we shall see.
The time came when cotton went up to sixteen cents a pound and
single breech-loading guns went down to five dollars apiece. The
negro had money now, and the merchants--these men who had said let
the nigger alone so long as he raises cotton and corn--sold him the
guns, a gun for every black idler, man and boy, in all the South.
Then shortly a wail went up from the sportsmen, "The niggers are
killing our quail." They not only were killing them, but most of the
birds were already dead. On the grounds of the Southern Field Club
where sixty bevies were raised by the dogs in one day, within two
years but three bevies could be found in a day by the hardest kind
of hunting; and this story was repeated all over the South. Now the
negro began to raise bird dogs in place of hounds, and he carried
his new gun to church if services happened to be held on a week day.
Finally the negro had grown up and had compassed his ambition: he
could shoot partridges flying just the same as a white man, was a
white man except for a trifling difference in color; and he could
kill more birds, too, three times as many. It was merely a change
from the old order to the new in which a dark-skinned "sportsman"
had taken the place in plantation life of the dear old "Colonel" of
loved memory. The negro had exacted his price for raising cotton and
[Illustration: THE SOUTHERN-NEGRO METHOD OF COMBING OUT THE WILD LIFE
"Our colored sportsman is gregarious at all times, but especially so in
the matter of recreation. He may slouch about alone, and pot a bevy or
two of quail when in actual need of something to eat, or when he has a
sale for the birds, but when it comes to shooting for fun he wants to be
with the 'gang'."--Charles Askins.
Reproduced from Recreation Magazine. By permission of the Outdoor World.]
Our colored sportsman is gregarious at all times, but especially so
in the matter of recreation. He may slouch about alone and pot a
bevy or two of quail when in actual need of something to eat, or
when he has a sale for the birds, but when it comes to shooting for
fun he wants to be with the "gang." I have seen the darkies at
Christmas time collect fifty in a drove with every man his dog, and
spread out over the fields. Such a glorious time as he has then! A
single cottontail will draw a half-dozen shots and perhaps a couple
of young bucks will pour loads into a bunny after he is dead out of
pure deviltry and high spirits. I once witnessed the accidental
killing of a young negro on this kind of a foray. His companions
loaded him into a wagon, stuck a cigar in his mouth, and tried to
pour whiskey down him every time they took a drink themselves as
they rode back to town. This army of black hunters and their dogs
cross field after field, combing the country with fine teeth that
leave neither wild animal nor bird life behind.
There comes a time toward the spring of the year after the quail
season is over when the average rural darky is "between hay and
grass." The merchants on whom he has depended for supplies make it a
practice to refuse credit between January first and crop time. The
black has spent his cotton money, his sweet potato pile has
vanished, the sorghum barrel is empty, he has eaten the last of his
winter's pork, and all that remains is a bit of meal and the meat
his gun can secure. He is hunting in grim earnest now, using all the
cunning and skill acquired by years of practice. He eats
woodpeckers, jaybirds, hawks and skunks, drawing the line only at
crows and buzzards. At this season of the year I have carried
chicken hawks up to the cabins for the sake of watching the delight
of the piccaninnies who with glowing eyes would declare, "Them's
mos' as good as chicken." What happens to the robins, doves, larks,
red birds, mocking birds and all songsters in this hungry season
needs hardly to be stated.
It is also a time between hay and grass for the rabbits and the
quail. The corn fields are bare and the weed seeds are exhausted. A
spring cold spell pinches, they lose their vitality, become thin and
quite lack their ordinary wariness. Then the figure-four trap
springs up in the hedgerow and the sedge while the work of
decimation goes more rapidly along. The rabbits can no longer escape
the half-starved dogs, the thinning cover fails to hide the quail
and the song birds betray themselves by singing of the coming
With the growing scarcity of the game now comes the season of sedge
and field burning. This is done ostensibly to prepare the land for
spring plowing, but really to destroy the last refuge of the quail
and rabbits so that they can be bagged with certainty. All the
negroes of a neighborhood collect for one of these burnings, all
their dogs, and of course all the boys from six years old up. They
surround the field and set it on fire in many places, leaving small
openings for the game to dash out among the motley assembly. I have
seen quail fly out of the burning grass with flaming particles still
attached to them. They alight on the burnt ground too bewildered to
fly again and the boys and dogs pick them up. Crazed rabbits try the
gauntlet amidst the barking curs, shouting negroes and popping guns,
but death is sure and quick. The few quail that may escape have no
refuge from the hawks and nothing to eat, so every battue of this
kind marks the absolute end of the birds in one vicinity; and the
next day the darkies repeat the performance elsewhere.
At this season of the year, the first of May, the blacks are putting
in some of their one hundred working days while the single
breech-loader rusts in the chimney corner. Surely the few birds that
have escaped the foray of the "gang," lived through the hungry days,
and survived their burned homes can now call "Bob White" and mate in
peace. But school is out and the summer sun is putting new life into
the bare feet of the half-grown boys, and the halfbreed bird dogs
are busier than they were even in winter. The young rabbits are
killed before they get out of the nest, and the quail eggs must be
hidden rarely well that escape both the eyes of the boys and the
noses of the dogs. After all it is not surprising that but three
bevies remained of the sixty. Doubtless they would not, except that
nature is very kind to her own in the sunny South.
Not every white man in the South is a sportsman or even a shooter;
many are purely business men who have said let the "nigger" do as he
likes so long as he raises cotton and buys our goods. But Dixie has
her full share of true men of the out-of-doors and they have sworn
in downright Southern fashion that this thing has got to end.
Nevertheless their problem is deep and puzzling. In Alabama they
made an effort and a beginning. They asked for a law requiring every
man to obtain written permission before entering the lands of
another to hunt and shoot; they asked for a resident license law
taxing every gun not less than five dollars a year; for a shortened
season, a bag limit, and a complete system of State wardens.