Birds of a Feather

It’s no secret that I’m crazy about chickens. Been there, established that. But did you know that I also carry a torch for their free-flying cousins? Yep, birds of any feather tickle my fancy. Chickadees, woodpeckers, sparrows, even raptors and ravens inspire a kind of wide-eyed wonder in my heart, and I suppose that qualifies me as a birdwatcher. Throw in my trusty old pair of binoculars, and I might even be a bona fide “birder” (FYI: bird was first used as a verb in 1918).

These days, birding has become pretty serious business, what with all of the high-tech gear and other doodads that a person can buy in the pursuit of glimpsing, gawking, and gathering life lists of bird sightings.

But to me, watching birds has always been second nature.

I may not keep track of who, what, and where, but being a birder isn’t all about checklists and data. Actually, “birding” is defined simply as “the observation of birds as a recreational activity.” I fit the bill!

Are you a bird watcher too?

If you’ve ever paused to marvel at a sprightly flock of songbirds flitting among the branches of your backyard, you understand the spell they can cast. There are no gemstones as spectacular—or as uplifting—as ruby cardinals, lapis jays, and citrine goldfinches. And, let’s face it, gemstones can’t SING.

Whenever I get bird-brained (lost in a birdwatching moment), I tip my hat to some special ladies who bucked tradition—and highfalutin’ fashion—to preserve our country’s feathered fauna. Without them, the skies might be a lot lonelier.

Back in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, it was all the rage for women to wear big, bold bonnets boasting bird accessories. Not just a feather here and there, mind you. We’re talking elaborate plumes, wings, heads, and even whole birds piled upon a single brim. As the fad swept the nation, bird hunting skyrocketed, and it wasn’t long before bird populations began to plummet. At the time, Harper’s Bazaar was even compelled to comment: “That there should be an owl or ostrich left with a single feather apiece hardly seems possible.”

Woman wearing a bird feather hat (ca 1912), photo courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-61248

The unlikely heroine who set out to spare the birds from society’s hat fad was Boston socialite Harriet Hemenway. Upon reading an account of an egret slaughter in the name of fashion, she invited the city’s most influential ladies to attend regular meetings over afternoon tea, and together the group pledged to boycott bird hats. One thing led to another, and by 1896, the Massachusetts Audubon Society was born, spawning a new (and thankfully lasting) trend of Audubon chapters throughout the states. Fashion was no match for morality, it turned out, as Congress was impelled to start passing laws prohibiting the sale of wild bird plumage.

Just goes to show what can be accomplished over tea!

For me, the moral of this little chapter in history is clear:  I just gotta continue getting out there and connecting with gals who want to share ideas about how to make the world a better place. Birds of a feather? We naturally flock together, and can make a difference in our everyday lives. (And, yes, I do count my bird blessings every chance I get!)

More bird banter…

The earliest birdwatching field guide in the United States was Birds through an Opera Glass, written by Florence Bailey in 1889. You can read the original text HERE.

Learn birding basics, download free bird songs, and search the bird identification guide at All About Birds.

Help scientists protect wild birds by counting them in your own backyard: The Great Backyard Bird Count

Leave a comment 3 Comments

  1. I love to bird-watch. My father used to bird-watch and he’d point out birds to me when I was a girl. Became second nature…While I was in Ireland in 2005 I learned the British term for this activity when I was noticing the birds of Ireland and someone asked me if I “was a twitcher”? Cute!

  2. caroline says:

    my husband spent the last 2yrs. Turning our yard into a bird haven. We have 8bird houses and 13various feeders. He also puts food out on the ground for those birds that enjoy feeding on the ground. We have peanut butter feeders for our gang of woodpeckers too. As I am totally disabled this has become my paradise. I am able to help him with some of the feeding. We are keeping a list of all the birds that come to our yard, it has been wonderful. We take pictures of all our bird friends and I am making scrapbook pages. An added bonus is that is that the deer come to eat too! We seem to have a wildlife sanctuary in our own little corner of the world! It just goes to show that you don’t need acres of land to provide a place for the birds and animals to be taken care of and to be safe close to populated areas.

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