One hundred years ago, just after the last Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet died, rendering both species extinct, the International Migratory Birds Treaty was signed, protecting the remaining birds of both Canada and the United States where single states and provinces, and even countries had not been able to do it. Today, Rob explained how unrestrained hunting in the late 1800s and early 1900s was driving many other species to extinction. In those days, people were shooting birds for food (pot hunting), slaughtering birds to make money (market hunting), killing birds to sell the feathers for decorating hats (the millinery trade), and “potting” birds just for the fun of seeing them fall.
Photo of Rob Lee explaining the plume hunting trade of the early 1900s

Rob traced out a part of this history by reading aloud from a book by Jack Miner, who hunted hard for the first half of his life, but turned almost completely around and created a sanctuary for Ontario waterfowl that continues in operation to this day. Jack was born in 1865, early enough to join his father in shooting Passenger Pigeons in Ohio. When he was 14, he and his brother took up market hunting to help provide for their parents’ family. “We soon became expert shots, he said, “and the result was we left a bloody trail behind us. For at least five miles around the birds appeared to fear us, and fly and scream as though Satan himself was after them.” But they couldn’t keep it up: “I am pleased to say that we two boys soon outgrew this murderous practice, and hunted for pleasure only.”

Hunting ducks was Jack’s chief joy in life, and when he got the chance he started knocking down the first Canada Geese to appear in his neighbourhood in southern Ontario, too. But one day in 1903, the family of geese that he was calling down out of the sky spotted him despite his concealment and fled in panic. As he headed home empty handed, he was doing some “tall thinking,” as he called it. “Why did they pass right over two other men within shooting range, and then shy before getting that close to me? Moreover, why were they so dreadfully frightened? Possibly because the leader saw one red hair of my topknot projecting from under my blanket and, to his sorrow, he had seen that fellow before. They know me as their enemy.” And then he had a further thought: “If they know me as their enemy, surely they would know a friend if they had one.”

Jack reflected that birds were becoming scarce: “I have seen more birds in one day, before I was ten years of age, than the average ten-year-old of the present day has seen in all his life.”

He went home and dug a pond and stocked it with captive ducks and geese. Year after year he looked for wild geese to settle in with them, and in 1908 he was rewarded with a small flock. He persuaded his neighbours not to shoot them. Every year after that, more came until he had to say, “Really, I did not know there were so many Canada geese on earth.” He had become their friend and protector.