Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cedar Birds Strike Again (Genesee Farmer 1837-1838)

The Cedar Waxwing, or as it was known at the time, "Cedar Bird," was widely considered an enemy of fruit-growing horticulturalists. We've already seen an extended "conversation" in the Genesee Farmer about whether farmers were justified destroying the bird. Five years later, the reports of depredations of the Cedar Bird in the same publication were accompanied by a call for a war of extermination:
Cedar Bird, (Bombycilla carolinensis of Nuttall), has this year repeated his visits in increased numbers, and with destructive effect to the early cherries and other sweet fruits of the season. It is but a few years since we first noticed this bird, and then only at considerable intervals; now it comes in flocks, and is one of the most annoying of birds. Unless some means of thinning its numbers, or preventing its attacks on the cherry and the raspberry--and as yet nothing but lead seems to have produced any effect--can be devised, the cultivation of the early sweet varieties, and of course some of the riches, must be abandoned….[E]very farmer should be…careful not to let old or young escape when…discovered, to plunder his fruit garden, or perpetuate the race. We are confident in this case the only remedy is a war of extermination, and partial as we are to the wild birds that come and go with the foliage of our groves, if the last cherry bird was in our possession, it would most assuredly go to the--cat.
The author went on to defend another species as unfairly persecuted: "the man who attempts to break up a colony of the cliff swallow, does not properly understand his interests, or adequately value the comfort of his domestic animals."

By 1838, however, the anti Cedar Bird position had softened. In a review of Robert Manning's Book of Fruit, a Genesee Farmer correspondent grudgingly accepted that there might be value in the bird after all. Like all cherry-growers, Manning had problems with the bird, but he advised the use of nets instead of gunshot, because the bird was actually useful. The author of the review extracted Manning's reasoning at length, believing that "if not sufficient to entitle it to protection, [it] should certainly receive attention, and not be lost sight of in horticultural economy."
In speaking as we have, of the annoyances sustained from birds, we are still fully persuaded that these plunderers, as they are sometimes called, more than compensate for their occasional inroads upon our orchards by their services in the spring, and also during their incubation, in destroying insects. We too often, perhaps notice the former, while the latter are remote, or not obtrusive....We have seen the Ampelis, or Cherry bird, that remarkably silent and dove-like[?]species, in great numbers early in spring, and also during the time of nidification upon our apple trees, when the canker worm was about half grown, destroying them in great numbers...'Public economy and utility,' says one, 'no less than humanity, plead for the protection of the feathered race; and the wanton destruction of birds, so useful, beautiful, and amusing, if not treated as such by the law, ought to be considered as a crime by every moral feeling and reflecting mind.'
The final quoted passage is from Nuttall, in his introduction to volume 1 of his Manual to the Ornithology of the United States. This is the first use I can find for it, but it will be key language in the bird protection movement to come. Manning, an influential horticultural authority, for one, was already on board. [Note: Manning was Nathaniel Hawthorne's uncle]

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