Bird Study – Bird Reservations

THE creation of reservations where wild birds can be protected at all times is a modern idea, brought prominently to public attention by the efforts of the Audubon Society. The first interest that the United States Government manifested in the subject was about thirteen years ago. On May 29, 1901, the legislature of Florida was induced to enact a statute making it a misdemeanor to kill any non-game birds of the State with the exception of the Crow and a few other species regarded by the lawmakers as being injurious to man’s interests.

First Federal Bird Reservation.—Shortly afterward the Audubon Society friends employed a man to protect from the raids of tourists and feather hunters a large colony of Brown Pelicans that used for nesting purposes a small, muddy, mangrove-covered island in Indian River on the Atlantic Coast. Soon murmurings began to be heard. ” Pelicans eat fish and should not be protected,” declared one Floridan. ” We need Pelican quills to sell to the feather dealers,” chimed in another with a keen eye to the main chance. There was talk of repealing the law at the next session of the legislature, and the hearts of the Audubon workers were troubled. At first they thought of buying the island, so as to be in a position to protect its feathered inhabitants by preventing trespass. However, it proved to be  not surveyed Government land, and the idea was suggested of getting the Government to make a reservation for the protection of the birds. The matter was submitted to President Roosevelt, who no sooner ascertained the facts that the land was not suited for agricultural purposes, and that the Audubon Society would guard it, than with characteristic directness he issued the following remarkable edict: “It is hereby ordered that Pelican Island in Indian River is reserved and set apart for the use of the Department of Agriculture as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.”

The gist of this order, bearing the authorization of the Secretary of Agriculture, was quickly painted on a large sign, and placed on the island, where all who sailed near might read. Imagine the chagrin of the Audubon workers upon learning from their warden that when the Pelicans returned that season to occupy the island as before, they took one look at this declaration of the President and immediately de-parted, one and all, to a neighboring island entirely outside of the reservation! Signs less alarming in size were substituted, and the Pelicans, their feelings appeased, condescended to return, and have since dwelt peacefully under the protecting care of the Government.

Congressional Sanction.—In view of the fact that some persons contended that the President had over-stepped his authority in making a bird reservation, a law was drafted, and passed by Congress, specifically giving protection to birds on lands set apart as National bird reservations. The legal difficulties thus removed, the way lay open for the creation of other bird reservations, and the Audubon Society seized the opportunity. Explorations were started to locate other Government territories containing important colonies of water birds. This work was quickly extended over many parts of the United States. Hunters of eggs and plumes were busy plying their trades wherever birds were known to assemble in great numbers, and the work had to be hurried if the birds were to be saved.

Mr. Frank M. Miller, of New Orleans, reported a case in which five thousand eggs had been broken on one Louisiana island inhabited by sea birds in order that fresh eggs might subsequently be gathered into the boats waiting at anchor off shore. No wonder that friends of water birds were profoundly concerned about their future welfare, and hailed with de-light Mr. Roosevelt’s quick action.

Mr. William Dutcher, President of the National Association of Audubon Societies, was so much pleased with the results achieved by the Federal reservation work of 19o5, that he declared in his annual report that the existence of the Association was justified if it had done nothing more than secure Federal bird reservations and had helped to guard them during the breeding season.

That year President Roosevelt established four more bird refuges. One of these, Stump Lake, in North Dakota, became an important nursery for Gulls, Terns, Ducks, and Cormorants in summer, and a safe harbour for wild fowl during the spring and fall migrations. Huron Island and Siskiwit in Lake Superior, the homes of innumerable Herring Gulls, were made perpetual bird sanctuaries, and Audubon wardens took up their lonely watch to guard them against all comers.

Florida Reservations.—At the mouth of Tampa Bay, Florida, is a ninety-acre island, Passage Key. Here the wild bird life of the Gulf Coast has swarmed in the mating season since white man first knew the country. Thousands of Herons of various species, as well as Terns and shore birds, make this their home. Dainty little Ground Doves flutter in and out among the cactus on the sheltered sides of the sand dunes; Plovers and Sandpipers chase each other along the beaches, and the Burrowing Owls here hide in their holes by night and roam over the island by day.

When this place was described to President Roosevelt, he immediately declared that the birds must not be killed there without the consent of the Secretary of Agriculture., With one stroke of his pen he brought this desirable condition into existence, and Mrs. Asa Pillsbury was duly appointed to protect the island. She is one of the few women bird wardens in America.

These things happened in the early days of Government work for the protection of water birds. The Audubon Society had found a new field for endeavour, highly prolific in results. With the limited means at its command the work of ornithological exploration was carried forward. Every island, mud flat, and sand bar along the coast of the Mexican Gulf, from Texas to Key West, was visited by trained ornithologists who reported their findings to the New York office. These were forwarded to Washington for the approval of Dr. T. S. Palmer of the Biological Survey, and Frank Bond, of the General Land Office, where executive orders were prepared for the President’s signature.

The Breton Island Reservation off the coast of Louisiana, including scores of islands and bars, was established in 1904. Six additional reservations were soon created along the west coast of Florida, thus extending a perpetual guardianship over the colonies of sea and coastwise birds in that territory the pitiful remnants of vast rookeries despoiled to add to the profits of the millinery trade.

The work was early started in the West resulting in the Malheur Lake and Klamath Lake reservations of Oregon. The latter is to-day the summer home of myriads of Ducks, Geese, Grebes, White Pelicans, and other wild waterfowl, and never a week passes that the waters of the lake are not fretted with the prow of the Audubon patrol boat, as the watchful warden extends his vigil over the feathered wards of our Government.

Federal bird reservations have been formed not only of lakes with reedy margins and lonely islands in the sea, they have been made to include numerous Government reservoirs built in the arid regions of the West.