« PreviousContinue »
when breeding, the members of the sparrow tribe, with a few exceptions, subsist chiefly on the seeds of various weeds and grasses. The beautiful rose-breasted grosbeak, found here as a summer resident, is the only species of our feathered friends which has been reported to feed to any considerable extent on the Colorado potato beetle.
Bounty or Scalp Acts. In different parts of the United States, farmers, sportsmen and some naturalists have urged upon their legislators the importance of passing Acts of Assembly awarding premiums for the destruction of certain alleged noxious birds and mammals. These efforts have in certain instances resulted in the enactment of laws which have resulted in the expenditure of large sums of money, and the killing of thousands of animals beneficial to the farmer and horticulturist. Early in 1887 the Territory of Montana offered a bounty of ten cents each on prairie dogs, and five cents each on ground squirrels. The act went into effect March 5, 1887, and the bounties paid during the next six months amounted to more than fifty thousand dollars. On Sept. 12, 1887, the record of payments stood as follows:
“ It is stated that up to this time the number of prairie dogs and ground squirrels killed had had no perceptible effect on their abundance in the Territory; and, as the money in the treasury was exhausted, the governor, with the permission of the president, called a special session of the Legislature, and the act was repealed.” (Barrows' Report, Bulletin No. 1, United States Department of Agriculture, 1889.)
During the session of 1885 the Legislature of Pennsylvania passed an act known commonly as the “Scalp Act,” by which bounties ranging from fifty cents to two dollars each were paid by the treasurers of the counties in which the animals were found, for destruction of the heads and ears of the following birds and mammals : hawks, owls, other than the saw-whet (Nycteu acadica), foxes, minks, weasels and wild cats. Wild cats were paid for at the rate of two dollars each, foxes commanded one dollar a head, and the remainder of the animals specified in the law were worth each fifty cents.
Under this act, within a period of about one year, Pennsylvania paid probably not less than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the destruction of birds and mammals. Of this large sum of money, more than one half - nearly eighty thousand dollars, as near as we can learn — was paid for the killing of hawks and owls, the greater part of which were species that fed principally on mice and different kinds of destructive insects. It was impossible to learn, positively, the exact number of hawks and owls slain by the provisions of the act of 1885, as some officers in the Keystone State were imposed upon in various ways by the “ scalp hunters In several counties premiums were awarded for night-hawks (Chordeiles Virginianus) Bounties were also given for the heads of common domestic fowls, partridges (Bonasa umbellus), cuckoos and butcher-birds; and, strange as it may seem to many of you, I was shown by the late Prof. S. F. Baird, of the Smithsonian Institution, the heads of two English sparrows, on which premiums had been paid by officers who believed them to be the heads of blood-thirsty, fowl. devouring hawks or owls. Impositions were also practiced in other ways. In one county upwards of two thousand dollars were paid to a party of hunters (three or five in number) for a mule's skin and a buffalo robe, which were cut into pieces and “fixed up” so that they passed for the “ heads” or “ears” of predatory mammals, or possibly the wise (?) magistrate accepted a portion of them as the heads of hawks and owls. A red fox was slain in one of the mountainous districts, and its pelt was cut into sixty-one parts, from which, it is stated, the enterprising hunters realized sixty-one dollars for their work. Birds of prey, as well as other animals on which bounties were allowed, were shipped to Pennsylvania from neighboring States; in this way large amounts of money were fraudulently obtained. Crawford County, one of our western districts, joining the
State of Ohio, paid over ten thousand dollars, and of this sum, it is said, about seven thousand dollars were paid for hawk and owl heads.
Early in 1886, or as soon as our people became aware of the workings and effect of the law, much dissatisfaction was expressed by farmers and others. Under the direction of the Pennsylvania State Board of Agriculture, I began making a careful study of the food habits of the hawks and owls, and obtained the bodies of over three hundred and fifty of these birds on which bounties had been paid. The contents of the crops and stomachs of these bodies were carefully examined by myself or by Dr. C. Hart Merriam and his assistants of the United States department of agriculture, Washington, D. C., and we found that ninety-five per cent of the food materials of these so-called noxious hawks and owls consisted, not of poultry and game, but of mice, other destructive quadrupeds, grasshoppers and many injurious beetles. This array of evidence being presented, through our State Board, to the Legislature, but little trouble was experienced in securing the repeal of the odious “ scalp act” of 1885.
Mr. President, a brief history of the “ bounty law” of Pennsylvania has been given at this time, owing to the fact that I have learned since coming here that there is a disposition in some sections of Massachusetts to have a general law passed by which premiums will be given for hawks, owls and certain beneficial mammals, slain in this Commonwealth. In fact, sir, you have in localities of your State local bounty acts which are now in force. From the annual report of the finances of Falmouth, Mass., for the year 1888, I see that fifty-one dollars were given for the killing of a like number of hawks. Legislation of this character is, I assure you, detrimental to the interests of agriculture, and should be opposed by every farmer throughout the whole length and breadth of the Bay State, as well as the country at large. The destructive babits of the English sparrow are so well known that the farmers and fruit growers of Massachusetts, are, I am informed, in favor of having a bounty for its destruction. In my opinion, the passage of such an act would be detrimental to the interests of agriculture. While
it is true that the English sparrow deserves the good-will of no one, and is a bird that should be destroyed, it is unwise for any one State to offer a premium for his worthless head. I have no doubt that, if the citizens of Massachusetts allow a bounty act to be passed for the destruction of the sparrow, and persons not familiar with birds are authorized to receive the sparrows slain by hunters, you will find that probably not less than one hundred species of the small wild birds will be killed, because the average sparrow hunter will, doubtless, be unable to distinguish the English sparrow from other kinds of birds which are quite similar in their general appearance. With a few exceptions, every member of the sparrow family (Fringillidae) occurring in this State would most likely be captured ; many species of warblers and certain swallows, — birds* which feed almost exclusively on insects, and are of great service to the farmer and fruit grower, — the smaller woodpeckers and fly-catchers, orioles,
, tanagers, thrushes, wrens, and perhaps many of the smaller kinds of water birds, would be slaughtered and offered for bounty.
The time-piece on the wall indicates that my hour is gone. In conclusion I would say that, if any one of my appreciative audience desires to fully inform himself with regard to the English sparrow and its relations to agriculture, he should obtain a copy of Bulletin No. 1 of the United States department of agriculture, entitled “ The English Sparrow in North America.” This public document, prepared under the direction of the ornithologist, Dr. C. H. Merriam, Prof. Walter Barrows, assistant ornithologist, is beyond doubt the finest publication on this subject that bas ever been issued.
Allow me, ladies and gentlemen of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture, to thank you most cordially for the attentive manner in which you have listened to my remarks.
Mr. WARE. I would be glad if the doctor would settle one question. It is a question among many farmers whether the common crow is a friend or an enemy of the farmer.
* A few species of warblers and the tree swallow occasionally eat different kinds of small wild berries.
Dr. WARREN. Since the days of Audubon and Wilson the common crow has had his friends and enemies among eminent naturalists, but the most recent investigations which bave been made by food specialists, particularly by Dr. Merriam of Washington, prove quite conclusively that the common American crow is detrimental to agriculture It is true that the crow feeds on grubs, cut-worms, and at times on field mice, but the number of field mice which the crow destroys is not great. In the spring, when the different species of our native birds begin to build their nests, he destroys large numbers of their young and of their eggs. The crow is also a lover of young poultry and the eggs of our domestic fowls. He loves to visit a corn field. It is a question among some naturalists whether the depredations which he commits in the spring are not counterbalanced by the good he does. In some sections of the country farmers tar their corn, and in that way prevent the crow from feeding upon it. But, in direct reply to the gentleman's question, I will say that the ornithologists who have investigated the crow assert that he is detrimental.
QUESTION. Does the kingbird do any good to the farmer? He is a great lover of bees. Does he give anything in return?
Dr. WARREN. The kingbird is one of the fly-catchers. All the fly-catchers feed to a greater or less extent on bees, but the kingbird is the one which preys to the greatest extent upon the honey-bee. He feeds chiefly, however, upon insects other than the honey-bec. He is a great catcher of flies. The kingbird should be protected by the farmer. The kingbird is a common summer resident in this region. He builds in apple trees and pear trees about our houses.
Secretary Sessions. I would like to have you give us, in as few words as possible, the results of your examination of the stomachs of English sparrows.
Dr. WARREN. Professor Everhardt and myself examined the stomach contents of one hundred and fourteen English sparrows captured in the borough of West Chester and vicinity during all the months of the year. Fourteen of those birds were young ones taken from the nest, the others were adult birds. Of this number, five had fed upon insects, the