How is this deep-seated desire and demand for feathers to be met? Domestic fowls will in part supply it; but for the finer ornaments we must turn to the Ostrich, the only bird in the world which has been domesticated exclusively for its feather product. These birds were formerly found wild in Arabia, southwestern Persia, and practically the whole of Africa. In diminishing numbers they are still to be met with in these regions, especially in the unsettled parts of Africa north of the Orange River. From early times the plumes of these avian giants have been in demand for head decorations, and for centuries the people of Asia and Africa killed the birds for this purpose. They were captured chiefly by means of pitfalls, for a long-legged bird which in full flight can cover twenty-five feet at a stride is not easily overtaken, even with the Arabs’ finest steeds.
So far as there is any record, young Ostriches were first captured and enclosed with a view of rearing them for profit in the year 1857. This occurred in South Africa. During the years which have since elapsed, the raising of Ostriches and the exportation of their plumes has become one of the chief business enterprises of South Africa. Very naturally people in other parts of the world wished to engage in a similar enterprise when they saw with what success the undertaking was crowned in the home country of the Ostrich. A few hundred fine breeding birds and a considerable number of eggs were purchased by adventurous spirits and exported, with the result that Ostrich farms soon sprang up in widely separated localities over the earth. The lawmakers of Cape Colony looked askance at these competitors and soon prohibited Ostrich exportation. Before these drastic measures were taken, however, a sufficient number of birds had been removed to other countries to assure the future growth of the industry in various regions of the world. It was in 1882 that these birds were first brought to the United States for breeding purposes. To-day there are Ostrich farms at Los Angeles, San Diego, and San José, California; Hot Springs, Arkansas; Jacksonville, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona, and elsewhere.
There is money to be made in the Ostrich business, for the wing and tail plumes of this bird are as popular today for human adornment as they were in the days of Sheerkohf, the gorgeous lion of the mountain. Even low-grade feathers command a good price for use in the manufacture of boas, feather bands, trimming for doll’s hats, and other secondary purposes. When the time comes for plucking the feathers, the Ostriches are driven one at a time into a V-shaped corral just large enough to admit the bird’s body and the workman. Here a long, slender hood is slipped over his head and the wildest bird instantly becomes- docile. Evidently he regards himself as effectively hidden and secure from all the terrors of earth. There is no pain whatever attached to the taking of Ostrich feathers, for they are merely clipped from the bird by means of scissors. A month or two later when the stubs of the quills have become dry they are readily picked from the wings without in-jury to the new feathers.
The Ostrich industry is good and it is worthy of encouragement. No woman need fear that she is aiding in any way the destruction of birds by wearing Ostrich plumes. There are many more of the birds in the world to-day than there were when their domestication first began, and probably no wild African or Asiatic Ostriches are now shot or trapped for their plumes. The product seen in our stores all comes from strong, happy birds hatched and reared in captivity. Use of their feathers does not entail the sacrifice of life, nor does it cause the slightest suffering to the Ostrich; taking plumes from an Ostrich being no more painful to the bird than shearing is to a sheep and does not cause it half the alarm a sheep often exhibits at shearing time.
The call for feather finery rings so loudly in the hearts of women that it will probably never cease to be heard, and it is the Ostrich the big, ungainly yet graceful Ostrich which must supply the demand for high-grade feathers of the future.