Saturday, August 3, 2013

Letters to the New England Farmer #3. Insectivorous Birds.

The third letter to the New England Farmer we'll look was credited to R. Green of Mansfield, MA, titled "Insectivorous Birds" and published on April 4, 1828. Condensing many of the arguments and figures that had been used up until that point, it was anchored by a dramatic first hand observation (not unlike the one presented by Bradley a century earlier).  In addition to the destroyed insect count and the invocation of the Creator's blessings, the brief but powerful description of the birds' fidelity and warm domestic relationship (see Mrs. Trimmer) made this one particularly effective.
Mr. Fessenden--These are to the farmer and gardener of great value. They were designed by the Creator to check the too great increase of insects; and no farmer ought to suffer them to be wantonly destroyed on his premises. The number of insects destroyed by the robin, swallow, sparrow, mock-bird, and other small birds, is astonishing. One little family will destroy several hundreds in a single day. Some little time since a pair of these small birds built a nest on a lilac, which grew close to one of my windows. In the time of incubation, there was a long and severe storm and a strong wind. The eggs were in danger of being thrown overboard by the wreathing of the bush. Conscious of this, the female kept on the nest to prevent any accident which might follow on her leaving it, to collect food. Her mate, like a good provider, was busily engaged during the day in collecting food (insects) which he carried to his companion and she received it of him with apparent affection. This circumstance excited particular attention: and of course this little society was closely observed. In a short time the eggs hatched; but from the roughness of the weather, or tenderness of the brood, the female chose not to leave the young. During this time, the male with surprising industry, brought small insects to feed the nestlings. The female received the food and divided it among her little charge. When the young had gained sufficient strength, the male was permitted to feed them; and from this time, both parents were mutually and incessantly (by day) employed in collecting small insects from every quarter; and on a moderate calculation, to the number of about seven hundred in a day.
One great cause of the increase of many insects, so destructive to vegetation, is the decrease of those little friends to the agriculturalist. Should a few of them innocently trespass on the property of the farmer, to the amount of a few cents, let him remember, that he is greatly indebted to them for services rendered; and not wage a war of extermination.
They are not merely useful in destroying insects--for they call the farmer and the gardener to their business--cause the groves to resound with music, and usher in the morning with melodious praise.
This letter became a standard "useful bird" text, reprinted in local newspapers, in the American Farmer, the New York Farmer, and (without attribution) in a variety of farm papers for decades to come. Indeed, its circulation became so circuitous that the New England Farmer reprinted it in 1838, but credited another farm paper, The Farmer's Cabinet.

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