The feet of the heron,
under those bamboo stems,
hold the blue body,
the great beak
above the shallows
of the pond.
Who could guess
–from Many Miles by Mary Oliver
Herons are tear-one’s-heart-out gorgeous. These two tricoloreds are getting to know each other, hanging out at my pond.
Every day I scan the trees, shrubs, and thickets looking for their nest of sticks.
Tricolored herons are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a state species of special concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule. But it wasn’t always this way.
Walking the streets of Manhattan in 1886, ornithologist Frank Chapman spotted 40 native species of birds. But the birds weren’t flitting through trees or foraging in the leaf litter. They had been killed, plucked, disassembled, stuffed, and attached to women’s hats.
During the heyday of the feather trade, the Florida Everglades was a primary US hunting ground. Hunters left behind the skinned carcasses of adults and (gasp) the living young. Those tykes had to fend for themselves and often died of starvation.
Ornithologist T. Gilbert Pearson told tales of the bloody heron and egret slaughter in Florida breeding colonies in an attempt to capture the nation’s attention.
A few miles north of Waldo, our party came upon a little swamp where we had been told Herons bred in numbers. Upon approaching the place the screams of young birds reached our ears. The cause of this soon became apparent by the buzzing of green flies and the heaps of dead Herons festering in the sun, with the back of each bird raw and bleeding… Young Herons had been left by scores in the nests to perish from exposure and starvation.
Reports of these “murderous millinery” atrocities jumpstarted the first Audubon societies.
The first wave of bird hat boycotts was initiated by Audubon Society members, led by Harriet Hemenway, a prominent Boston society woman, and her cousin Minna Hall. (This was one upper-crust boycott. Even Queen Victoria announced she would no longer wear feathers. Hear that, Kate?)
‘Audubonnets’ were born ~ bound-for-the-big-time non-feathered hats and/or ones using only ‘acceptable’ feathers from domestic birds. My mother had several in her closet that came out on Sunday for church.
Harriet and Minna made huge strides in protecting wild birds. They also had some unexpected help from the fashionistas who latched onto a new hairstyle, the bob. They wore plain slouch hats and cloches, too small to hold extravagant feathery creations.
Displaying feathers was, once again, um, for the birds.
I like birds. So do EELS.