Sunday, March 22, 2009

Living Without Aigrettes

The screaming never stops on the bird rookery. Babies want food. Mates need help. Competitors jockey for better territories and struggle to secure mates. It's so noisy here on this island in the middle of the Caloosahatchee I almost forget the foul smell of fish and bird poop. During the breeding season, many birds develop special plumes or bright colorations to attract a mate (the teal blue eye of the Anhinga, the crimson legs of the White Ibis). The Great Egret has spectacular tail feathers called aigrettes that were once prized by plumage hunters. They appear wispy and delicate and have a yellowed - burnt marshmallow appearance towards there tips. In the late 19th and early part of the 20th century, plumage hunters sought out rookeries where they would slaughter nesting birds and take their feathers. Chicks were left to starve. Eggs left unincubated never hatched. The feathers were used for decoration and specifically for women's hats that were all the rage at the time. In 1908 - an ounce of plumes was worth more than an ounce of gold. Great Blue Herons, Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Egrets and other bird populations were severely impacted by this less than noble trade.When the plume rage was exposed as murderous fashion, the rage of the nation led to federal legislation banning the sale of plumes. Populations have been slow to rebound over the many decades that have passed and some say for every Great Egret you see today - you might have seen 10 a century ago. Here at the rookery, Wood Stork nests far outnumber Great Egret nests. Nevertheless, courtship continues as Egrets flash their aigrettes like a Peacock (since the courtship period is over - I don't have a shot of this). Mates are wooed. Eggs are laid. Chicks are born. Here -one of several chicks pesters an adult for partially digested fish.
We can be thankfull in large part to the Audubon Society who led the way in protecting South Florida's birds well over 100 years ago by introducing protective legislation, developing educational programs and putting boots on the ground to physically protect the birds - assuring that we wouldn't have to live without aigrettes.

9 comments:

  1. A long-time family friend of ours is pretty much responsible for the founding of the West Virginia Audobon society. Anyway, she came to visit once when we still lived in Sarasota, and we went bird watching out at Myaka (is that how you spell it?), and cracked up when she heard one old lady say to another, "Look at all the Egresses!" It's now a long-running family joke.

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  2. The airboat driver we use on our tour used to call the birds Blue Herrings when he first started. Great Blue Herrings, Little Blue Herrings. Green Herrings...When we corrected him - he turned it into a joke and pointed out red herrings as well. Guests thought it was funny. :)

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  3. Michael W. CorradinoMarch 20, 2009 at 7:16 AM

    Historically women's hats are probably responsible for the extinction or decimation of more species than any other cause. Our own Carolina Parakeet is a prime example, but there are hundreds of fur and feather casualties throughout history. Thank God we have women's hair care products to encourage them to show off their own plumage rather than some poor animal's.

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  4. The Adirondak Weasel became extinct in the 70's due to the great New York toupee craze of '71

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  5. Thought for sure you were going to reference the AIG bonus scandel by calling the #%@$#@ aigrettes

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  6. super post.Sadly we are still killing the planet with our fashions. PVC, dyes and chemicals...what happened to cotton!
    -Fireflower

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  7. Pete, for some damn reason my CompuServe does not allow me to post a comment on your wonderful writings. Any how, thanks for your efforts to save the Everglades!

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  8. Not sure why some people can and other can't but I've posted for you - I appreciate you reading the posts!

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