News From the Natural World: Save the Birds!

When I taught third grade, She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head, was one of my favorite pictures books to share with my students. They were shocked at the cruelty of birds being killed so women could have fancy hats. The book tells the story of Harriet Hemenway who, with her cousin Minna Hall, helped launch the Massachusetts Audubon Society. They were part of a larger movement that began in the late 19th century to protect birds and stop their wholesale slaughter in the name of fashion. Florence Merriam Bailey was another fierce advocate for the birds, and wrote one of the first field guides to American birds, Birds Through an Opera-Glass. This poem, which is still very much a draft, is a tribute to these determined women.

In the 1890s, feathered hats
Were all the rage.
Ladies wore them everywhere:
To parties, parks, the stage.

Some women were revolted,
They knew that it was wrong
To kill quails and loons for fashion.
Let them sing their song!

Harriet, Minna, Florence, too,
Spread word throughout the land.
Stop this ghastly craze, they cried.
Save snowy egrets! their demand.

They rallied all their friends,
They sounded the alarm.
Taking feathers to festoon your head
Does hummingbirds great harm.

Soon laws were passed and habits changed.
Flamingos and pheasants protected.
People still think birds are beautiful,
But not to be collected.

Draft, © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

14 thoughts on “News From the Natural World: Save the Birds!

  1. This is your best poem yet. It happens that I am writing a book about women who did amazing feats of literacy in the period 1880-1930, so these gals fit right in. It was a period of many progressive reforms–the Audubon Society is typical of the events of the period.
    Alice Horning

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to wear a quail on their hat, but we’ve seen strange fashions in our lifetime, too, just not dead birds. Well done, Catherine. It might be the start of a poetry book about those who made change in our world!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great poem, Catherine! Have you ever read “The Feather Thief”? It’s an amazing book that tells about the feather trade, legal and illegal, especially related to fly fishing. It also highlights the tragic impact that women’s fashion had on bird populations.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this. I knew women’s hat fashions had changed, but I did not know of the women behind the change. Thank you for sharing about them in this delightful poem.

    Liked by 1 person

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