Posted On: 09/13/2017 - 12:28pm, Posted By: Other
This post is guest-authored by Stanley Hedeen, professor emeritus at Xavier University and long-time volunteer at the Geier Collections & Research Center.
The birds in the zoology collection of the Cincinnati Museum Center are specimens that were killed for scientific study. Birds in the Cincinnati region also have been killed for many other purposes. In the late eighteenth century onward, people shot birds to procure meat for their families and city markets, farmers dispatched species that fed on crops or poultry, and feather hunters collected skins of colorful birds for the hat industry.
Plumes of the breeding male Great Egret (Ardea alba) were often used for hat decorations.
Hunters supplied colorful feathers to hat makers. Left to right, 1st row: Eastern Towhee, American Kestrel, Blue Jay; 2nd row: Northern Flicker, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Cardinal.
Local sportsmen practicing their marksmanship also killed birds. Members of the Cincinnati Shooting Club in the 1830s accumulated competition points that were loosely based on the size of each animal killed: 30 points for wild goose, 20 points for wild turkey, 15 points for ruffed grouse and pheasant, 10 points for long-billed curlew, 5 points for woodcock, canvasback, mallard, and black duck, 4 points for wigeon and wood duck, 3 points for teal and other ducks fit for eating, 2 points for plover, rabbit, and common snipe, and 1 point for bobwhite and rails. Fourteen Shooting Club members killed a total of 233 Bobwhite Quail, Snipe, American Woodcock, ducks, teal ducks, and rabbits at the organization’s first annual fall hunt in 1831, and eleven members shot 333 animals during the initial annual spring hunt in 1832.
Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus), a game species.
Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), a former game species.
Due to unregulated shooting, the Common Raven (Corvus corax) and the now globally-extinct Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) disappeared from the region in the nineteenth century. Hunting also caused the extinction of another locally nesting species, the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). The pigeon was the most abundant bird in the nation in 1800, but excessive harvesting of the animal reduced its population to a few scattered flocks 100 years later. The last verified free-flying passenger pigeon on earth was shot in the Cincinnati area on April 3, 1902, and the last caged member of its species died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.
Carolina Parakeet, Passenger Pigeon, and Common Raven, three former residents of the region.
Faced with the accelerating disappearance of birds at the end of the nineteenth century, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and practically every other state adopted laws covering such subjects as open seasons, possession limits, and protection of non-game species. The state statutes, however, were poorly enforced, and so in 1900 the United States government stepped in to enforce a ban on the interstate shipment of bird products taken in violation of state regulations. U.S. President William Howard Taft of Cincinnati in 1913 signed the Migratory Bird Act outlawing the killing of all migratory non-game birds and establishing closed seasons during which it would be illegal to hunt migratory game birds. Therefore, for now over a century, almost all of the nation’s birds have been protected by the federal government.