Migratory Bird Treaty, Part One

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, adopted by the United States in 1918, outlaws the “taking” of migratory birds,or their eggs, or their feathers, or their nests. As of the moment, 836 bird species are protected, although 58 are legally hunted as game birds. In part, the treaty was enacted in response to wide-spread killing of birds so their feathers and stuffed bodies could adorn women’s hats. In the first decade of the Twentieth Century huge hats with masses of feathers, and sometimes complete birds, were fashionable female adornments. Particularly wealthy women might even have a stuffed male hummingbird atop their finery.

American Actress Edith Lyle in 1910

Don Marquis was writing at the time and his type-writing cockroach Archy weighed in on the bird-adorned fashions of the day. By the time Archy wrote this poem, the fashion tide was turning the Migratory Bird Treaty crowned that efforts.

Remember that Archy was the fictional cockroach invented by Marquis. Archy could only type by throwing himself bodily on each key of the typewriter, so he skipped all punctuation. To get the full favor of the poetry, it is best to read it out loud. Or, if you’re someplace where that isn’t practical, this is one time when sub-vocalizing as you read makes perfect sense.

Poets are always asking

where do the little roses go

underneath the snow

but no one ever thinks to say

where do the little insects stay

this is because

as a general rule

roses are more handsome

than insects

beauty gets the best of it

in this world

i have heard people

say how wicked it was

to kill our feathered

friends

in order to get

their plumage and pinions

for the hats of women

and all the while

these same people

might be eating duck

as they talked

the chances are

that it is just as discouraging

to a duck to have

her head amputated

in order to become

a stuffed roast fowl

and decorate a dining table

as it is for a bird

of gayer plumage

for a lady s hat

but the duck

does not get the sympathy

because the duck

is not beautiful . . . .

Being a cockroach, Archy favored the underdog in all situations. So Archy would be happy to know that the treaty lives on, protecting, “any species or family of birds that live, reproduce or migrate within or across international borders at some point during their annual life cycle.” Stiff fines can result from interfering with those life cycles even by knocking down a nest you don’t want under the eaves of your house. We’ll have more detail in our next migratory bird post.

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