Bird Study – Bird Protective Laws

LAWS for the protection of wild birds and animals have been enacted in greater numbers in the United States than in any other country in the world. In a Government Bulletin on

American Game Protection, Dr. T. S. Palmer states that the earliest game laws were probably the hunting privileges granted in 1629 by the West India Company to persons planting colonies in the New Netherlands, and the provisions granting the right of hunting in the Massachusetts Bay Colonial Ordinance of 1647. As soon as the United States Government was formed, in 1776, the various States began to make laws on the subject, and these have increased in numbers with the passing of years. For example, between the years 1901 to 1910, North Carolina alone passed three hundred and six different game laws. As various forms of game birds or animals showed indications of decreasing in numbers new laws were called into existence in an attempt to conserve the supply for the benefit of the people. Not infrequently laws were passed offering bounties or otherwise encouraging the killing of wolves, pumas, and other predatory animals, or of birds regarded as injurious to growing crops or to poultry raising.

State laws intended primarily for the protection of wild life may be grouped as follows: (I) naming the time of the year when various kinds of game may be hunted; these hunting periods are called “open seasons.” (2) The prohibition of certain methods formally employed in taking game, as, for example, netting, trapping, and shooting at night. (3) Prohibiting or regulating the sale of game. By destroying the market the incentive for much excessive killing is removed. (4) Bag limit; that is, indicating the number of birds or animals that may be shot in a day; for example, in Louisiana one may kill twenty-five Ducks in a day, and in Arizona one may shoot two male deer in a season. (5) Providing protection at all seasons for useful birds not recognized as game species.

Definition of Game.—Game animals as defined today include bears, coons, deer, mountain sheep, caribou, cougars, musk oxen, white goats, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, wolves, antelopes, and moose. Game birds include Swans, Geese, Ducks, Rails, Coots, Woodcocks, Snipes, Plovers, Curlews, Wild Turkeys, Grouse, Pheasants, Partridges, and Quails. Sometimes other birds or animals have been regarded as game. Robins and Mourning Doves, for example, are still shot in some of the Southern States as game birds.

The Audubon Law.—Little was done in the way of securing laws for the benefit of song and insectivorous birds and birds of plumage until 1886, when the bird-protection committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union drafted a bill for this specific purpose. This bill, besides extending protection to all useful non-game birds, gave the first clear statutory terminology for defining “game birds.” It also provided for the issuing of permits for the collecting of wild birds and their eggs for scientific purposes. The States of New York and Massachusetts that year adopted the law. Arkansas followed eleven years later, but it was not until the Audubon Society workers took up the subject in 1909 that any special headway was made in getting States to pass this measure. To-day it is on the statute books of all the States of the Union but eight, and is generally known as the Audubon Law.

Game Law Enforcement.—In all the States but Florida there are special State officers charged with enforcing the bird and game protective laws. Usually there is a Game Commission of three or more members whose duty it is to select an executive officer who in turn appoints game wardens throughout the State. These men in some cases are paid salaries, in others they receive only a per diem wage or receive certain fees for convictions. License fees are usually required of hunters, and the moneys thus collected form the basis of a fund used for paying the wardens and meeting the other expenses incident to the game law enforcement.

The Lacey Law.—The Federal Government is taking a share of the responsibility in preserving the wild life of the Union.

On July 2, 1897, Congressman Lacey introduced in the House a bill to prohibit the export of big game from some of the Western States. In 1909 amendments were made to the Lacey Law, one of which prohibited the shipment of birds or parts thereof from a State in which they had been illegally killed, or from which it was illegal to ship them. The enforcement of this by Federal officers has been most efficacious in breaking up a great system of smuggling Quails, Grouse, Ducks, and other game birds.

Federal Migratory Bird Law.—Probably the most important game law as yet enacted in the United States is the one known as the Federal Migratory Game Law or the McLean Law. A somewhat extended discussion of this important measure seems justifiable at this time.

When, in 1913, the first breath of autumn swept over the tule sloughs and reedy lakes of the Northwest, the wild fowl and shore birds of that vast region rose in clouds, and by stages began to journey toward their winter quarters beneath Southern skies. If the older birds that had often taken the same trip thought anything about the subject, they must have been impressed, when they crossed the border into the United States, with the fact that changes had taken place in reference to shooting.

It is true that in Minnesota, for instance, the firing of guns began in September, as in other years; but those Ducks that reached the Mississippi River below St. Paul found no one waiting to kill them. As they proceeded, by occasional flights, farther down the river there was still a marked absence of gunners. The same conditions prevailed all the way down the valley until the sunken grounds of Arkansas and Mississippi came into view. What did this mean? Heretofore, at this season, hunters had always lined the river. This had been the case ever since the oldest Duck could remember. The Missouri River, too, was free from shooting throughout the greater part of its length, which was sufficient cause for many a grateful quack.

What was the reason for this great change? Had the killing of wild fowl suddenly lost its attraction for those who had been accustomed to seek pleasure afield with gun and decoys? No, indeed, banish the thought, for it is written that so long as man shall live, Wild Duck shall grace his table and gratify his palate.

The remarkable changes which had so affected the fortunes of the wild fowl were due to the enactment of a United States law known as the Federal Migratory Game Law. Let us see something of this law and of what led to its establishment.