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Arctic Tern. Julius Bien (1826-1909), after John James Audubon (1785-1851). Chromolithograph, 1860.

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White Herons at Home. Benson B. Moore (1882-1974). Drypoint, about 1928.

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Tens of millions of birds were taken at the height of the feather-trade years, between 1870 and 1920. The two groups most damaged by fashion hunting were the white egrets or herons, and the small terns. One auction record alone lists more than one million heron or egret skins sold in London between 1897 and 1911.

As areas like the Florida Everglades, a primary wetland habitat of egrets and herons, became developed, ornithological and humane societies reported hunters seeking the largest egret rookeries. There they could kill the greatest number of birds at one time and harvest the largest number of plumes. Hunters left behind the skinned carcasses of adults. They also left the living young to fend for themselves, and many young birds died of starvation.

Reports of these atrocities led to formation of the first Audubon and conservation societies, whose founders believed they now had enough evidence to change public opinion about hunting regulations. The social and political prominence of these individuals enabled them to promote the passage of laws that began to protect America's native wildlife.

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Back skin and plumes from a snowy egret (Egretta thula). Confiscated by the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, Department of Agriculture, about 1920.

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Billy Bowlegs Photograph, about 1892. Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

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Seminole Indians and Canoes on the Miami River, Miami, Florida. Postcard, about 1920.

Since the early 19th century, the everglade wetlands of southern Florida had been home to the Seminole, the Muskogee peoples forced out of their homelands in the Southeast after extended confrontation with settlers and the U.S. government.

After the 1850s their once-isolated refuge in the Everglades was besieged by hunters and traders anxious to exploit its natural resources. The newcomers depended on the Seminole as guides and suppliers of bird, deer, alligator, and otter skins.

Though the Seminole did not historically hunt egrets, they were drawn into the feather trade because of their hunting skills, their knowledge of the Everglades, and their need for cash and manufactured goods.

click to enlargeFur Trading in the Everglades of Florida. Postcard, 1930s.

click to enlargeWhite and Seminole federal agents with confiscated egret skins, 1930s. Photograph by H.B. Thrasher, Courtesy National Conservation Training Center Archives/Museum.

more info Shooting on the Beach. Currier & Ives Hand-colored lithograph, about 1873.

Enactment of federal laws, beginning with the Lacey Act in 1900, brought about changes in the hunting of all American bird species. Today only a few birds are legal to hunt. Game birds can be hunted for sport or food and have legal hunting seasons and bag limits.

At the turn of the century, hunters and naturalists considered the inexpensive double-barreled breech-loaded shotgun the best all-around weapon for all birds. The suggested shot sizes were No. 10, No. 12, and "dust" for the smallest birds.


more info Double-barreled shotgun, 12-gauge, Belgian, about 1890. Thomas Parker, maker.

The Forehand Single Barrel Breech- Loading Shot Gun. Engraving by Kyes & Woodbury, from Illustrated Price List of Naturalists' Supplies and Books, Charles K. Reed, Worcester, Massachusetts, publisher, about 1890.

"Standard Shot Sizes." Cartridges, by Herschel C. Logan, Standard Publications, Inc., 1948.

Hunters and naturalists often share interests that are based on a love of nature and the need for healthy animals in a healthy environment. Charles K. Reed acquired his naturalist, hunting, and taxidermy business in the 1880s from Edward Howe Forbush, who went on to become a noted author and Ornithologist to the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture.

Charles Reed and his son, Chester, also made substantial contributions to the general public's ornithological knowledge. One of their most popular publications, Bird Guide, a three-volume set intended for the amateur naturalist in the field, was copyrighted in 1906 and reprinted as late as the 1940s.

When hunting regulations were enacted after the turn of the century, the interests of hunters and naturalists seemed to diverge. But in fact, both hunters and scientific collectors were adversely affected. The livelihoods of both were threatened.

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Illustrated Price List of Naturalists' Supplies and Books and Price List of the Birds' Eggs of North America, Charles K. Reed, publisher, successor to E. H. Forbush, Worcester, Massachusetts, about 1890.


Bird Guide, Land Birds East of the Rockies from Parrots to Bluebirds by Chester A. Reed. Copyright 1906, 1909 by Charles K. Reed; Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1943.


From left to right, Vernon Bailey, C. Hart Merriam, Theodore Sherman Palmer, and A. K. Fisher of the U.S. Biological Survey in Death Valley on a collecting expedition. U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey photograph, Department of Agriculture, 1890s. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

click to enlargeAlexander Wetmore (1886-1978) at his desk at age 15. Wetmore became a prominent ornithologist and avian paleontologist. He held positions with the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, Department of Agriculture (1910-1924); became head of the Smithsonian's U.S. National Museum (1925-1945); and served as the Secretary of the Smithsonian (1945-1952). Photograph, about 1900. Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives.

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