Ozark Outdoors

Celebrate and learn during 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Act

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A hummingbird finds nectar wherever it can, including the blooming spike of a backyard lavender plant in August.

A hummingbird finds nectar wherever it can, including the blooming spike of a backyard lavender plant in August.

We share many things with neighboring countries. Besides the obvious borders with Canada and Mexico, we also share culture, trade, tourism, geographic features, and, less conspicuous to most – birds. Many of the birds we enjoy in Missouri are not residents but rather migratory birds that only spend part of the year here. Ignoring boundaries, they are birds of more than one country; they belong to all of us.

A century ago, in 1916, the first protection from people for migratory birds was enacted between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) called the Migratory Bird Treaty. For the first time, laws protected migratory birds from being hunted, pursued, taken, killed, possessed, sold, purchased, imported, exported, or transported. In addition, the law also afforded protection for all parts of the birds including feathers, and their nests or eggs unless permitted by the law. The treaty protects birds crossing international borders with a uniform system rather than relying on countries with differing values and policies for protection. Migratory game birds are protected by different laws which govern hunting seasons and limits.

Sadly, this federal law came too late to save the once abundant passenger pigeon that became extinct in 1914 and the colorful Carolina parakeet, which died out in 1918. The demise of these two species, along with others, helped to prompt the protection of the birds we enjoy today. The treaty is credited with saving species of birds including the yellow-billed cuckoo, Kirkland’s warbler, snowy egret, and, undoubtedly, many more. Additional treaties were passed later with Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972, and Asia in 1976 and other birds were added to the list of protected birds to include eagles, corvids – members of the blackbird and jay family – and others.

You may be surprised to learn that even a feather found on the ground is protected. While this may sound too restrictive, it is based on protecting birds. The Carolina parakeet’s feathers, and even the entire bird – with its emerald green color and bright yellow head – were in high demand as adornments for women’s hats. They, like other birds, were also captured from the wild and kept as pets. Combined with habitat destruction, pesticide use, and wanton killing for damaging crops, survival proved difficult for many species of birds.

Prior to these laws, even avid bird lovers routinely kept eggs, nests, feathers, and taxidermy bird specimens in private collections. The rarer the bird the more valuable they were to a collector. Fortunately, photography and the advent of field guides replaced collections as a means of identifying birds.

Eagles are afforded even greater protection through the Bald and Golden Eagle Act. Violations may result in fines of up to $100,000 for an individual or $200,000 for an organization, imprisonment, or both. Penalties increase for subsequent offenses. Native American tribes are allowed to collect feathers for religious ceremonies based on a 1962 update.

For the first time, laws protected migratory birds from being hunted, pursued, taken, killed, possessed, sold, purchased, imported, exported, or transported. In addition, the law also afforded protection for all parts of the birds including feathers, and their nests or eggs unless permitted by the law. The treaty protects birds crossing international borders with a uniform system rather than relying on countries with differing values and policies for protection. Migratory game birds are protected by different laws which govern hunting seasons and limits.

Eagles are afforded even greater protection through the Bald and Golden Eagle Act. Violations may result in fines of up to $100,000 for an individual or $200,000 for an organization, imprisonment, or both. Penalties increase for subsequent offenses. Native American tribes are allowed to collect feathers for religious ceremonies based on a 1962 update.

On an international level, this year-long celebration of the Migratory Bird Treaty brings awareness of migrating birds and the importance of conservation in protecting them as well as increased interest in all bird species. In Missouri, birders are encouraged to engage in birdwatching by visiting some of the best places to view birds.

Nothing attracts birds better than suitable habitat and each natural community type attracts specific birds. To discover some of these great birding areas, visit the new website, GreatMissouriBirdingTrail.com. Besides discovering prime locations to birdwatch, learn how to attract birds to your backyard and find birdwatching tips and lists of local bird organizations such as the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society.

At the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, we have a variety of programs to connect you to birds. We are teaming with the Moxie Cinema for a special showing of The Messenger, a film about songbirds on October 1. The film is described as “a visually thrilling ode to the beauty and importance of the imperiled songbird . . .” We are also hosting book discussions on Silent Spring–the classic book by Rachel Carson, the “Patron Saint” of the environmental movement that alerted the world to how pesticides and chemicals were affecting bird populations in the 1960s. Finally, local musician and avid birder Bo Brown returns on Oct. 20 to present Nature And The Arts–Songs And Birds.

Spend some time appreciating the birds that share your world. Many have already begun their long and perilous southward migration. Unlike humans, birds don’t have a passport to ensure their ability to cross international borders. Instead, they are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty – a uniform system for safe passage. That’s worth celebrating.

— Linda Chorice, Springfield Nature Center Manager

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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