Must we Lose our Birds?

Pawtucket Gazette and Chronicle

The most discouraging fact that can be proved against many intelligent women is the absolute indifference with which they seem to have met the appeals of artistic taste, of science, and of humanity to stop the wholesale slaughter of the birds. It is foolish and trifling to plead longer the excuse of ignorance. If women are still ignorant of the economic waste, of the loss to scientific study, of the suffering and destruction caused to gratify their vanity, then it is an impeachment of their intelligence and their common sense, if nothing worse. Every paper in the land has published the statistics of this trade in feathers; and there is hardly one that stands for anything more than reporting the daily news of the world that has not sent out again and again appeals to women to have mercy on these helpless creatures. Nevertheless everywhere one goes, the heart is saddened by the evidences that these appeals are unheeded. One cannot sit in church, and look around on the aigrettes, torn from mother-birds whose little ones were left to starve, and on the wings that might still be glancing in living beauty through the air, making the spring more lovely, without wondering what the gentle Nazarene, whose words we repeat, whose religion we profess, would say to this. He said once that not a sparrow can fall to the ground without the Father.

At first thought, it would seem as if every woman must refuse, even if only on grounds of artistic fitness, to wear that on her head which cannot fail to suggest suffering and death to those who look at her. Only a debased artistic sense can find beauty in a dead bird, or in a part of a dead bird, when thus used as decoration for a woman's hat. It is not as if she were asked to choose between such ornamentation and bare, unrelieved plainness. Is your milliner so poor in ideas that she has no other resources than those supplied by a trade which robs the earth of its music and gladness and life, giving nothing as a recompense? Then it is time to choose another milliner, for there are many who are glad to second the protest against this wrong.

The study of biology is practically just opening to students, and it is painfully instructive to hear the predictions of eminent scientists touching the influence that the war on birds must have on this department of knowledge. Already certain species are as extinct as the Mesozoic animals. Certain birds that were common within the memory of those not yet old are so rare that not a single specimen has been seen for years. John Burroughs says that the bluebird has almost vanished from New York State, and the heron is nearly exterminated in Florida. The sea-birds along our coasts are disappearing, the wild pigeon has become almost a tradition, and the Smithsonian Institute predicts with authority that soon hardly any species of bird life will survive except such as are domesticated.

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The Lectures
April 4, 1901

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