Friday, June 29, 2018

Thrifty Acres: It's For The Birds!

Hello! I would describe myself as a casual birder: I have a current birding field guide and keep a running list of the feathered friends I've seen. I feed them in the winter and try to identify the various sounds they make. But I don't have binoculars and I've yet to go out on a organized excursion like the annual Audubon bird count. 

Speaking of birding field guides, I like the artwork and information of vintage ones. These are easily found at secondhand sources like thrift stores - and more recently, a church rummage sale. 

This Golden Nature Guide - Birds A Guide To The Most Familiar American Birds was published in 1956. The loose pages seen sticking out from behind the cover are due to the images I've already cut out of the book, such as this one:

The blue sections on the map represent the winter range of the bird in question, while the pink areas show the summer range. 

Of note here: for my home state of Michigan, in 1956 this particular bird only lived in the eastern half of the Upper Peninsula during the summer. This is noteworthy because this map is for the ranges of the now-so-common Canadian goose! 

Hard to believe this bird was once so rare in Michigan, but on the other hand, I can still recall my excitement the first time I saw a Canadian goose on a lake; this was in the mid-1960's. I'm sure that my daughter wouldn't even remember the first time she saw one, since they now seem to be pretty much everywhere there's grass with water nearby.

I was being rushed through a church rummage sale recently (my husband was with me, as we'd been in the process of traveling from one town to another on a weekend excursion), so I grabbed this after only a quick glance:

Bird Guide - Land Birds East of the Rockies, authored by Chester A. Reed. A look through the pages showed that it was an old birding guide, but I didn't realize how old until I viewed the title page later:


This guide came out in 1909!

This is a far more personal birding guide than the type I'm used to; Mr. Reed had opinions and wasn't afraid to write them. For instance, this passage about cats: "If a dog kills sheep or deer, he is shot and the owner has to pay damages; if a man is caught killing a bird, he pays a fine; but cats are allowed to roam about, without restriction, leaving death and destruction in their wake. All homeless cats should be summarily dealt with (did he mean killing?), and all pets should be housed, at least from May until August, when the young birds are able to fly."

Lots of luck telling your pet dog or cat that they have to stay indoors during the summer months!  

Mr. Reed had opinions about birds too. For example, the blue jay: "...unfortunately they have a very bad reputation." But the indigo bunting is "A jolly summer songster".  However, Mr. Reed apparently didn't care for the song of the red-eyed vireo: "All through the spring and summer months their warble is heard from woodland and roadside, often becoming so monotonous as to be irritating." Well, really - it's not as if this bird warbles as it does just to be irritating!

Some bird lover - Mr. Reed seemed like a bit of a crank about them 
at times! 

Remember my surprise at seeing the 1956 range map for the Canadian goose? The 1909 field guide also had a big surprise for me, courtesy of this bird:
Reed had this to say about cardinals: "They are southern birds, rarely seen in the northern U.S. unless in cages, for large numbers of them are trapped for this purpose, a practice that is being stopped as rapidly as possible by enforcing the laws which protect them." 

Wow, I had no idea cardinals never used to live in Michigan! And it seems bizarre that they were once trapped to live in cages for northerners' pleasure. I can understand wanting to have them around, though, since they're such a pretty bird (well, the males, anyway)and have pretty songs too. 

Another bird whose habitat was far more limited in 1909 than today:

The starling. Mr. Reed informed us "These European birds were introduced into New York a number of years ago, and are now common there and spreading to other localities in Connecticut and about New York City."  According to my modern guide, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds Eastern Edition, this introduction occurred in 1890. 

Mr. Reed worried: "How they will affect other bird life, in case they eventually become common throughout the country, is a matter of conjecture, but from what I have seen of them, they are quarrelsome and are masters of the English Sparrow, and may continue their domineering tactics to the extent of driving more of our song birds from the cities."

As I'd said at the beginning of this post, I'm only a casual birder, but it seems to me that the English sparrow - also known as the house sparrow - has done just fine since 1909. This sparrow, and the starling, are now both very common in the US. My Audubon Field Guide shows the same range map for these birds: every state in the lower 48. 

Not surprisingly for such an old volume, Reed's book is beginning to fall apart. No matter - after I'm done reading more of his birding opinions, it'll join the Golden Nature Guide as a "cutter" book to be used in projects. And such usage certainly isn't for the birds!

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