In the 1800s, the United States was home to Carolina parakeets, a bright green bird embellished with beautiful yellow and orange feathers. You will not see them today; they are extinct. Along with Labrador ducks, passenger pigeons, great auks and heath hens.
Throughout the 1800s, many bird species populations were quickly declining due to unchecked overhunting. Market hunters seeking to fulfill the demands of the fashion market decimated bird populations. Their goal was not sound conservation ethics but rather providing feathers to adorn well-to-do women’s hats.
Conservation groups, alarmed by these trends, began to organize. In 1916, the United States signed a treaty with Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada). Through this act, both the United State and Canada agreed to stop hunting migratory species and establish regulations for hunting of game birds.
In 1918, the Congress approved the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This lone piece of legislation has single-handedly saved the lives of millions of birds. The law officially makes it a crime to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill,” or “sell” a migratory bird or any of its parts, including nests, feathers and eggs. This law allows our country to recognize the importance of birds in our economy, land management and natural resource ecology.
We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of this act. We celebrate the fact that we can all agree on the importance of birds — for outdoor recreation such as bird watching and hunting of game species. For insect control on our farms and in our gardens. For their role in the food web feeding species like foxes, bobcats and even skunks. For their role in bringing in needed dollars to Nebraska’s economy. For instance, the sandhill crane migration through central Nebraska and the associated ecotourism is estimated to bring in more than $10 million annually.
I invite you to take the month of May — Nebraska Bird Month — to celebrate birds with your family and friends. Set up a simple bird feeder and delight at the diversity of birds that visit. Go for a bird walk through your neighborhood, a city park or Nebraska state park. Plant a few bird-friendly plants. Or build a simple birdhouse and watch who takes up residence.
If you are interested in events that celebrate birds, visit the Nebraska Bird Month website at nebraskabirdmonth.org to learn of the nearly 50 events taking place across the state.
Regardless of what you do, take a moment to remember where we were 100 years ago. We had plummeting bird populations, unchecked hunting and a bleak outlook. Then celebrate how far we have come, with sound conservation ethics, booming ecotourism economy and healthier habitats. All of this with the help of birds.