21 February 2014

Hummingbirds Slain for Fashion's Sake

The Way Little Californians Bring Down the Lovely Humming-Birds

From the Santa Barbara Press.

During the last two or three years, or since fickle-minded fashion has decreed that birds as well as feathers should be used to ornament the heads of the elite of feminine society, a new source of revenue has been opened to the natives of southern California. Santa Barbara, being the "land of flowers," is necessarily the home of the delicate little humming-bird, which lives upon the distilled pollen or bee food of our gaudiest flora. In a glass case upon the counter within the drug store of A.M. Rulz was discovered two rows of dead humming-birds, each with their little "feet turned up to the daisies." The "trade is a recently-developed one," said Mr. Rulz. "It is less than three years old, but it is steadily growing. We do not propose to engage very largely in it, as it is not exactly in our line, which is drugs and perfumery; but we find a profitable market for all we can obtain."

"How do you obtain these humming-birds?" queried the reporter.

"The little boys bring them in. There are four or five little Californians who live in or near town who are experts with sling-shots, a skillfully manipulated improvement upon the contrivance used by David to kill Goliah. Small pebbles or a teaspoonful of small bird shot is used, and when propelled by our little humming-bird hunters usually bring down the bird. These little hunters bring on in an average of about five birds a day."

"Why do they not use nets? It would not destroy or injure the delicate plumage of these little birds."

"Nets would be better, I believe, but the little Spanish children are used to their little sling-shots, and are as skillful with them as are their fathers with the tiara, and woe to the humming bird at which one of these little boys discharges a charge of pebbles or bird shot."

"Is there any money in the business?"

"No, not worth speaking of. I pay from ten to fifteen cents each for the birds and then I dress and stuff them and ship them to San Francisco. Then I am paid at the rate of fifty cents each for the female common bird and seventy-five cents each for those male birds of the brilliant plumage."

"Is there more than one variety of humming-bird in the market?"

"Yes, we have four. There is the 'fiery,' or that bird you see there with the red flaming throat. Then there is the sulphuretted or yellow bronzed bird. Next the ordinary male, which has a green and red plumage, and last, the brown, unbronzed female bird.

"What is the extent of the trade?"

"Last year we sent off less than a thousand birds; we could have found a market for at least three times the number exported."

In continued conversation it was discovered that while San Francisco obtains a large proportion of these delicate birds, the best and prettiest are selected and shipped direct to the fashion centers in Paris and London, where they command a high price.

September 26, 1883. Washington D.C. Evening Star 62(9494): 3.