ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED | MAY 20, 1920 | THE FARMER'S ADVOCATE
Every farmer has a host of unpaid farm hands to whom he gives never even a thank you.Long before he gets out of bed, unless he gets up with the gray dawn, these hands are “on the job,” and if the farmer could compute the amount in dollars and cents that they save him in a year he would be amazed. The trouble is that he can’t see it with his two eyes, and so it never occurs to him that it exists. On the contrary, so stupidly, blindly unimaginative is he, sometimes, that if he sees one of these unpaid helpers treating himself to some cherries, on a fine summer morning, he takes out his gun and shoots him.
Of course we are speaking of the birds, and we cheerfully admit that the robins do eat quite a number of cherries in a season. The stupidity of the man who shoots them to stop the feast exists in the fact that he cannot see that the robins, by the amount of insects they eat in a year, make up a thousand times for the cherries they take, even if they ate every blessed one of them. For the robin can’t live on cherries. All the rest of the year he has to live on other things, chiefly bugs. If the farmer knew a thing or two he would plant some wild cherry trees, “bird-cherry” and “choke-cherry” along the border of his cherry orchard. The birds like wild fruit best, and will go to it in preference almost every time if it is to be had.
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As a rule people have no idea of the enormous appetites of the birds, and the tremendous numbers of insects even one bird can make way with in a season. The average man, if he had a bird’s appetite (in proportion to his size), would get away with from 30 to 31 pounds of food a day. And the smaller the bird the bigger seems to be its appetite. A german scientist who kept a canary under observation for a month (in the peaceful days before the War) discovered that, although the little creature weighed only 16 grams, during the month it managed to eat 512 grams of food, about 32 times its own weight. It must, therefore, have eaten its own weight in food every day. The average bird however, eats only about one-fifth of its own weight daily, and the only reason it doesn’t wax fat and corpulent and die, probably, of fatty degeneration of the heart, is that it has to work so hard for what it gets. From morning to night it is on the go, eating, most of the time, but “scrambling” for every bite. Then when the eggs hatch out and there is a family of nestlings with gaping mouths to be fed, more than double duty must be done. No wonder the Maytime lover hasn’t time to sing any more. For a fellow can’t sing love-songs and “saw wood” at the same time.
Considering then, that one birds eats so much (and all of our native birds are insect eaters), try to imagine the vast number of insects put out of business in our country in a year. Indeed it has been computed by scientists that if the entire bird life of the world were to be destroyed the vegetation upon which we depend for life would be eaten by insects in about three years. Insects multiply with incredible rapidity--and it is the birds, chiefly, that keep then within bounds at all… If you don’t believe the above assertion about the devastation wrought by insects, put this into your pipe and smoke it for a while: The American naturalist, Riley, has estimated that the hop aphis--to name but one species amongst the vaste [sic] horde of insects--develops 13 generations in one year, and that at the end of the twelfth generation there will be ten sextillions of individuals. Forbush, another naturalist, says: “If this brood were marshalled into line, ten to the inch, it would extend to a point so sunk in the profundity of space that light from the head of the procession, travelling at the rate of 184,000 miles per second, would require 2,500 years in which to reach the earth!”
Insects destroy more than $1,00,000,000 worth of fruit and grains every year, even under present conditions. Birds eat insects --Read the moral for yourselves.
Are the Birds Diminishing in Numbers?
Probably many who read this can look back at a time when the wild birds were much more numerous than they are now, - when bluebirds were very commonly seen in the woods, scarlet tanagers were not rare, cedar waxwings with their pretty crested heads were a beautiful sight among the orchard trees. The great grandfathers and great grandmothers, too, looking back over fourscore years, tell of a time when the wild pigeons were so numerous that they afforded one of the most common meat dishes for the pioneer’s table. For several years past the Audobon Society of America has offered a prize of $1,000 to anyone finding a single pair of wild pigeons. The prize remains unclaimed; mourning doves have been discovered, but not a single passenger pigeon.
Where are the tanagers? Where the bluebirds? Where the waxwings? Where the passenger pigeons?
It must be confessed, with shame, that very many of them have paid sacrifice for their beauty for the adornment of women’s hats. It is a matter for real thanksgiving that the wings and bodies of beautiful birds are no longer in fashion for millinery – partly because the good taste of many women has rebelled against wearing the dead bodies of songbirds on their hats, partly because drastic laws have been made in some places against such desecration. But 15 to 20 years ago there was no such restriction. Then no beautiful bird was safe from the cruelty of woman’s vanity; even the stuffed bodies of humming birds were frequently seen on hats, and great numbers of men made a business of snaring and shooting birds for the millinery trade.
Some sort of revolution has come about, but it has not gone far enough. Even yet women are frequently seen wearing hats adorned with tufts of egret or osprey. Could those women bow their heads in church if they realized that the dainty plumes of the egret grow on the parent birds only in the nesting season, and that when they die to adorn a women’s hat a whole nestful of little ones is left to starve?
As a matter of fact this country now exists upon about 10 per cent of the bird life that was here once upon a time, and – even leaving millinery out of the question – the number is continually decreasing. As the forests decrease and the cultivation of fields extends the birds are robbed of their natural nesting places. Many nestfuls of eggs and even young birds of the “ground” varieties, are sacrificed by the relentless mower in the hayfields. Cats and other enemies take their toll. It was even found some time ago that foreigners making up construction gangs along the railway route in Northern Ontario were shooting and cooking songbirds. Then there are the endless dangers during the migration season – the countless numbers dashed to death against the wires and buildings and shore lights. Some of the birds are becoming wise and flying very high, but many still fall by the way.
At best the birds have a hard time to live at all. Considering the joy of them, and the usefulness of them – that they are our unpaid helpers, guarding us against starvation, lessening our work and expense of spraying, which were it not for them would be intolerable, is it not “up to us” to protect and encourage them?