Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Vermont Farmer defends Robins

In the history of agricultural periodicals and the bird protection movement certain texts stand out as achieving particular prominence, reprinted widely in newspapers and farm papers over a long period of time. An article originally appearing in the "Farmer's Journal" and printed in the American Farmer on September 13, 1822 under the heading, "Agricultural," is a case in point.

 It was introduced as follows:
The following observations of a Vermont Farmer show that we should consult our real interest, as well as the finer feelings of our nature, by defending the innocent robin from the attacks of both boys and men. There are also other kinds of birds who prey on the insects which devour our crops and whose industry would amply reward us for protecting them--Farmer's Journal
Note the dual lines of argument: utilitarianism and an appeal to "the finer feelings of our nature." And the farmer's arguments could be extended to other birds as well.

The farmer began by describing the worm problem plaguing farmers, then turned to possible solutions:
   ..I know of no method whatever to extirpate this larger [worm] species, which human ingenuity can devise. But Providence seems to have provided an antidote to this evil, in the rubecula [sic--this is actually the Latin name of the European robin] or common Robin. 
  This innocent and useful bird preys with peculiar avidity upon this species of worm. This fact may be ascertained by visiting a nest of young robins in the vicinity of a corn field, when it will be perceived that they are fed lavishly upon this kind of worm. At other times, this bird feeds upon different species of worms and bugs which are found upon the surface of the ground, which services are of immense value and benefit to the farmer, and ought to recommend it to his particular care and patronage. 
Human ingenuity was not equal to "Providence" when it came to the control of corn-destroying worms.
But its innocence and utility are inadequate to protect it from the wanton cruelty of boys and sportsmen. What an immense numbers of these, our benefactor, are annually destroyed through mere wantonness and cruelty, while we are constantly hearing of the ravages of worms and bugs in the various departments of vegetation. Even whole corn fields have been laid waste the present season by this larger species of worm, which calamity might have been obviated by having spared and fostered the robin.
Hunting was framed as "wanton cruelty," wastefully destructive to the larger agricultural community.
The utility, in fact, of this invaluable bird, is so obvious, that even legislative interference is imperiously demanded to rescue it from the bloody fangs of the fowler. Other states have their protecting laws for the benefit of innocent and useful birds, and why should we be distanced in the sacred cause of humanity? The subject may appear trifling and novel at first, but a little reflection will convince any one that it is by no means unimportant. "
The writer was evidently referring to Massachusetts's useful bird act of 1818 (and perhaps New York's game bird laws). Why should Vermont not join this  progressive movement? Note that the writer did acknowledge that many readers at the time might find it trivial, at least at first glance....

This article circulated for the next two years through general newspapers and the farm press, from New England all the way to Evansville, Illinois and Augusta, Georgia. The Providence Gazette (September 14) ran it with the headline, "Don't shoot the birds!" [Note that the exhaustive Stuntz's bibliography lacks an entry for a Vermont paper titled "Farmer's Journal" (or any other Vermont agricultural periodical) during the 1820s. It appears to have been published out of Windsor, VT.]

No comments:

Post a Comment