Bird Study – Distant Reservations

Once set in motion, this movement for Federal bird reservations soon swept beyond the boundaries of the United States. One was established in Porto Rico, and several others among the islands of Alaska, on whose rocky cliffs may be seen today clouds of Puffins, Auks, and Guillemots queer creatures that stand upright like a man crowding and shouldering each other about on the ledges which overlook the dark waters of Bering Sea. One reservation in Alaska covers much of the lower delta of the Yukon, including the great tundra country south of the river, embracing within its borders a territory greater than the State of Connecticut. From the standpoint of preserving rare species of birds this is doubtless one of the most important reservations which has come into existence. It is here that many of the wild fowl, which frequent the California coast in winter, find a summer refuge safe alike from the bullet of the white man and the arrow of the Indian. Here it is that the lordly Emperor Goose is probably making his last stand on the American continent against the aggression’s of the destructive white race.

Away out in the western group of the Hawaiian Archipelago are located some of the world’s most famous colonies of birds. From remote regions of the Pacific sea birds journey hither when the instinct for mating is strong upon them. Here come “Love Birds” or White Terns, and Albatrosses, great winged wonders whose home is on the rolling deep. The number seems almost beyond belief to men and women unfamiliar with bird life in congested colonies. On February 3, 1909, these islands and reefs were included in an executive order whereby the “Hawaiian Island Reservation” was brought into existence. This is the largest of all our Government bird reserves. It extends through more than five degrees of longitude.

At intervals in the past these islands had been visited by vessels engaged in the feather trade, and although no funds were available for establishing a warden patrol among them, it was fondly hoped that the notice to the world that these birds were now wards of the United States would be sufficient to in-sure their safety.

A rude shock was felt, therefore, when late that year a rumor reached Washington that a Japanese poaching vessel had been sighted heading for these waters. The revenue cutter Thetis, then lying at Honolulu, was at once ordered on a cruise to the bird islands. Early in 1910 the vessel returned, bringing with her twenty-three Japanese feather hunters who had been captured at their work of destruction. In the hold of the vessel were stored two hundred and fifty-nine thousand pairs of wings, two and a half tons of baled feathers, and several large cases and boxes of stuffed birds. Had the Japanese escaped with their booty they would have realized over one hundred thousand dollars for their plunder. This island was again raided by feather collectors in the spring of 1915.

President Taft a Bird Protectionist.—President Taft continued the policy of creating bird reservations begun by Mr. Roosevelt, and a number were established during his administration. President Wilson likewise is a warm advocate of bird protection. One of many reservations he has created is the Panama Canal Zone, which is in charge of the Panama Canal Commission. With this exception and that of the Pribilof Reservation, which is in charge of the Bureau of Fisheries, all Government bird reservations are under the care of the Department of Agriculture, and their administration is directed by the Bureau of the Biological Survey. The National Association, of Audubon Societies still contributes in a modest way to the financial support of some of the wardens.

Audubon Society Reservations.—It may be noted from this list that there are no Government bird reservations in the original thirteen colonies. The reason is that there are no Government waste lands containing bird colonies in these states. To protect the colony-breeding birds found there other means were necessary. The Audubon Society employs annually about sixty agents to guard in summer the more important groups of water birds along the Atlantic Coast and about some of the lakes of the interior. Water-bird colonies are usually situated on islands where the birds are comparatively free from the attacks of natural enemies; hence the question of guarding them resolves itself mainly into the question of keeping people from disturbing the birds during the late spring and summer months. Painted signs will not do this. Men hired for the purpose constitute the only adequate means. Some of the protected islands have been bought or leased by the Audubon Society, but in many cases they are still under private ownership and the privilege of placing a guard had to be obtained as a favor from the owner. Probably half a million breeding water birds now find protection in the Audubon reservations. On the islands off the Maine coast the principal birds safeguarded by this means are the Herring Gull, Arctic Tern, Wilson’s Tern, Leach’s Petrel, Black Guillemot, and Puffin. There are protected colonies of Terns on Long Island; of Terns and Laughing Gulls on the New Jersey coast; of BIack Skimmers, and of various Terns, in Virginia and North Carolina.

One of the greatest struggles the Audubon Society has ever had has been to raise funds every year for the protection of the colonies of Egrets and Ibis in the South Atlantic States. The story of this fight is longer than can be told in one short chapter. The protected colonies are located mainly in the low swampy regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. I have been in many of these “rookeries” and know that the warden who undertakes to guard one of them takes his life in his hand. Perhaps a description of one will answer more or less for the twenty other Heron colonies the Society has under its care.