Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Response to Bradley

While Bradley's contributions to the long-term project of bird protection should not be overlooked, I don't mean to suggest that his arguments were generally effective, particularly among contemporaries (and particularly in respect to the house sparrow). My favorite response (one surely overlooked by those who would introduce house sparrows into the cities of the U.S.) can be found in William Ellis, Agriculture Improv'd (Google Books has a 1746 edition--I don't know anything else about its history). I've embedded the relevant section below:

Clearly, Bradley is considered a voice to be reckoned with, and Ellis concedes most of his points when it comes to the good birds do generally. But he is absolutely unwilling to budge an inch on the house sparrow. While they may feed their young on insects,
as soon as their bodies become robust enough to digest grain, they are not wanting to feed on the same; and which, to mine and all the farmers' cost in our parts, we find to be too true throughout, or almost throughout, the whole year; and which we cannot well hinder, so long as they have liberty to fly; because there are few, and very few, barns so close-boarded, but what the sparrows can get into ; and so into many granaries, ricks, and stacks of grain, where these arch-thieves [my emph.]find opportunity to pillage from the farmer:
Urban gardeners may see more benefits and fewer overt costs but they surely "do a great deal of mischief, even in a garden."
So house sparrows should be destroyed, and Ellis provides a long section on exactly how this might be done. He advocates the use of boys, "because it is a pleasant sport for them to climb and take them out of their holes," and the use of nets, traps, and lime twigs ("by these, boys sometimes catch them, to their great diversion"). [Note: Ellis references the bee expert, Joseph Warder, here.]The place of boys in the history of bird protection will be a recurring theme; here, Ellis encourages what later authors will admonish as thoughtless cruelty.
Ellis closes his chapter with an odd story, about a sparrow and a boy who teamed up to rob houses:

This story seems gratuitous, as it speaks more directly to the character of the boy than his tame sparrow. On the other hand, it reinforces a "criminal" frame (and Ellis doesn't disapprove of capital punishment for petty thieves).
Note: Ellis next turns his attention to the damage done by pigeons.

Next: New England Destroys Blackbirds (and pays for it)

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