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Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). A Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open. 1916.


Bird Reserves at the Mouth of the Mississippi

ON June 7, 1915, I was the guest of my friend John M. Parker, of New Orleans, at his house at Pass Christian, Mississippi. For many miles west, and especially east, of Pass Christian, there are small towns where the low, comfortable, singularly picturesque and attractive houses are owned, some by Mississippi planters, some by city folk who come hither from the great Southern cities, and more and more in winter-time from the great Northern cities also, to pass a few months. The houses, those that are isolated and those in the little towns, stand in what is really one long row; a row broken by vacant reaches, but as a whole stretching for sixty miles, with the bright waters of the Gulf lapping the beach in front of them, and behind them leagues of pine forest. Between the Gulf and the waters lies a low ridge or beach of white sand. It is hard to make anything grow in this sand; but the owners of the houses have succeeded, using dead leaves and what manure is available; and in this leaf-mould the trees and grasses and flowers grow in profusion. Long, flimsy wooden docks stretch out into the waters of the Gulf; there is not much bad weather, as a rule, but every few years there comes a terrible storm which wrecks buildings and bridges, destroys human lives by the thousand, washes the small Gulf sailing craft ashore, and sweeps away all the docks.

Our host’s house was cool and airy, with broad, covered verandas, and mosquito screens on the doors and the big windows. The trees in front were live-oaks, and others of his own planting—magnolias, pecans, palms, and a beautiful mimosa. The blooming oleanders and hydrangeas were a delight to the eye. Behind, the place stretched like a long ribbon to the edge of the fragrant pine forest, where the long-leaved and loblolly pines rose like tall columns out of the needle-covered sand. Five pairs of mocking-birds and one pair of thrashers had just finished nesting; at dawn, when the crescent of the dying moon had risen above the growing light in the east, the mockers sang wonderfully, and after a while the thrasher chimed in. Only the singing of nightingales where they are plentiful, as in some Italian woods, can compare in strength and ecstasy and passion, in volume and intricate change and continuity, with the challenging love-songs of many mockers, rivalling one another, as they perch and balance and spring upward and float downward through the branches of live-oak or magnolia, after sunset and before sunrise, and in the warm, still, brilliant moonlight of spring and early summer.

There were other birds. The soldierly looking red-headed woodpeckers, in their striking black, red, and white uniform, were much in evidence. Gaudy painted finches, or nonpareils,” were less conspicuous only because of their small size. Blue jays had raised their young in front of the house, and, as I was informed, had been successfully beaten off by the mockers and thrashers when they attempted assaults on the eggs and nestlings of the latter. Purple martins darted through the air. King-birds chased the big grackles and the numerous small fish-crows—not so very much bigger than the grackles—which uttered queer, hoarse croakings. A pair of crested flycatchers had their nest in a hollow in a tree; the five boldly marked eggs rested, as usual, partly on a shed snake skin. How, I wonder, through the immemorial ages, and why, did this particular bird develop its strange determination always, where possible, to use a snake’s cast-off skin in building its nest? Every season, I was told, this flycatcher nested in the same hollow; and every season the hollow was previously nested in by a tufted titmouse. Loggerhead shrikes were plentiful. Insects were their usual food, but they also pounced on small birds, mice, and lizards, and once on a little chicken. They empale their prey on locust thorns and on the spines of other trees and bushes; and I have known a barbed-wire fence to be decorated with the remains of their victims. There were red cardinal-birds; and we saw another red bird also, a summer tanager.

But the most interesting birds on the place were not wild, being nothing more nor less than ordinary fowls engaged in what to me were most unordinary occupations. Parker had several hundred fowls, and had by trial discovered the truth of the statement that capons make far better mothers than do hens, especially for very young chicks. We saw dozens of broods of chickens, and one or two of young guinea-fowl, being taken care of by caponized bantams, game-cocks, and cochin-chinas. These improvised mothers looked almost precisely as they did before being caponized, the differences, chiefly in the color of the comb, being insignificant, for they were full-grown birds when operated on. But their natures had suffered the most extraordinary change, for they had developed not only the habits but the voices of unusually exemplary mother hens. They never crowed; they clucked precisely like hens; and they protected, covered, fed, and led about their broods just like hens. They were timid, except in defense of the chicks; but on their behalf they were really formidable fighters. The change in habits takes place with extraordinary rapidity. In a few hours the cock has completely changed and can be placed with a brood which he promptly adopts. In perhaps one case in ten he does not take readily to his duties as an ex-officio hen; and in such case the further measure adopted seems as incredible as the rest of the performance, for he is made drunk with whiskey, acts as if he were intoxicated, and then promptly develops maternal feelings, and zealously enters on his new career.

We saw game-cocks clucking and calling to their broods of little chicks, to get them to the crumbs we tossed to them, and then sitting with the chicks not only under their wings but on their backs. They kept the broods with them until the young were nearly as large as they were; in one case the brood consisted of guinea-fowl. Moreover, they welcomed any brood, no matter how large. One big rooster was leading around so many chickens—all, by what seemed a sardonic jest, his own progeny, the progeny of the days when he was a mere unregenerate father—that when they took shelter under him he had to spread his wings; “like a buzzard,” said my host, to whom soaring buzzards were familiar sights. Of course, the extraordinary part of all this was not the loss of the male qualities but the immediate and complete acquirement of those of the female. It was as if steers invariably took to mothering calves, or geldings to adopting foals.

These capon-mothers, with their weight and long spurs, fought formidably for their chicks. In one case a Cooper’s hawk swooped on a half-grown chick, whereupon the game-cock who was officiating as hen flew at the aggressor, striking it so hard as to injure the top of the wing. The hawk was unable to fly, and the cock pressed it too close to let it escape. Although the rooster could not kill the hawk, for the latter threw itself on its back with extended talons, he had rendered it unable to escape, and one of the men about the place came up and killed it, having been attracted by the noise of the fight. Another cock killed a big blacksnake which tried to carry off one of the chicks. The cock darted to and fro over the snake, striking it continually until it succumbed.

Pass Christian is an ideal place for a man to go who wishes to get away from the Northern cold for a few weeks, and be where climate, people, and surroundings are all delightful, and the fishing and shooting excellent. There is a good chance, too, that the fish and game will be preserved for use, instead of recklessly exterminated; for during the last dozen years Louisiana and Mississippi, like the rest of the Union, have waked to the criminality of marring and ruining a beautiful heritage which should be left, and through wise use (not non-use) can be left, undiminished, to the generations that are to come after us. As yet the Gulf in front of the houses swarms with fish of many kinds up to the great tarpon, the mailed and leaping giant of the warm seas; and with the rapid growth of wisdom in dealing with nature we may hope that there will soon be action looking toward the regulation of seining and to protection of the fish at certain seasons. On land the quail have increased in the neighborhood of Pass Christian during the last few years. This is largely due to the activity of my host and his two sons as hunters. They have a pack of beagles, trained to night work, and this pack has to its credit nearly four hundred coons and possums—together with an occasional skunk!—and, moreover, has chivied the gray foxes almost out of the country; and all these animals are the inveterate enemies of all small game, and especially of ground-nesting birds. To save interesting creatures, it is often necessary not merely to refrain from killing them but also to war on their enemies.

One of the sons runs the Parker stock-farm in upper Louisiana, beside the Mississippi. There are about four thousand acres, half of it highland, the other half subject to flood if the levees break. Five years ago such a break absolutely destroyed the Parker plantations, then exclusively on low land. Now, in event of flood, the stock can be driven, and the human beings escape, to the higher ground. Young Parker, now twenty-two years old, has run the plantation since he was sixteen. The horses, cattle, and sheep are all of the highest grade; the improvement in the stock of Louisiana and Mississippi during the last two decades has been really noteworthy. Game, and wild things generally, have increased in numbers on this big stock-farm. There is no wanton molestation of any animal permitted, no plundering of nests, no shooting save within strictly defined limits, and so far as possible all rare things are given every chance to increase. As an example, when, in clearing a tract of swamp land, a heron’s nest was discovered, the bushes round about were left undisturbed, and the heron family was reared in safety. Wild turkeys have somewhat, and quail very markedly, increased. The great horned owls, which destroyed the ducks, have to be warred against, and the beasts of prey likewise. Surely it will ultimately again be recognized in our country that life on a plantation, on a great stock-farm or ranch, is one of the most interesting, and, from the standpoint of both body and soul, one of the most healthy, of all ways of earning a living.

At four on the morning of the 8th our party started from the wharf in front of Pass Christian. We were in two boats. One, good-sized and comfortable, under the command of Captain Lewis Young, was the property of the State Conservation Commission of Louisiana, the commission having most courteously placed it at our disposal. On this boat were my host, his two sons, John, Jr., and Tom, myself, and a photographer, Mr. Coquille, of New Orleans. The other boat, named the Royal Tern, was the property of the Audubon Society, being allotted to the work of cruising among and protecting the bird colonies on those islands set apart as bird refuges by the National and State Governments. On this boat—which had a wretched engine, almost worthless—went Mr. Herbert K. Job and Mr. Frank M. Miller. Mr. Miller was at one time president of the Louisiana Conservation Commission, and the founder of the Louisiana State Audubon Society, and is one of the group of men to whom she owes it that she, the home state of Audubon, of our first great naturalist, is now thoroughly awake to the danger of reckless waste and destruction of all the natural resources of the State, including the birds. Mr. Herbert K. Job is known to all who care for bird study and bird preservation. He is a naturalist who has made of bird-photography a sport, a science, and an art. His pictures, and his books in which these pictures appear, are fascinating both to the scientific ornithologist and to all lovers of the wild creatures of the open. Like the other field naturalists I have known, like the men who were with me in Africa and South America, Mr. Job is an exceptionally hardy, resolute, and resourceful man, following his wilderness work with single-minded devotion, and continually, and in matter-of-fact manner, facing and overcoming hardship, wearing toil, and risk which worthy stay-at-home people have no means whatever of even gauging. I owed the pleasure of Mr. Job’s company to Mr. Frank M. Chapman, at whose suggestion he was sent with me by the National Audubon Society.

The State Conservation Commission owes its existence to the wise public spirit and far-sightedness of the Louisiana Legislature. The Audubon Society, which has done far more than any other single agency in creating and fostering an enlightened public sentiment for the preservation of our useful and attractive birds, is a purely voluntary organization, consisting of men and women who in these matters look further ahead than their fellows, and who have the precious gift of sympathetic imagination, so that they are able to see, and to wish to preserve for their children’s children, the beauty and wonder of nature. (During the year preceding this trip, by the way, the society enrolled one hundred and fifty-one thousand boys and girls in its junior bird clubs, all of which give systematic instruction in the value of bird life.) It was the Audubon Society which started the movement for the establishment of bird refuges. The society now protects and polices about one hundred of these refuges, which, of course, are worthless unless thus protected.

The Royal Tern is commanded by Captain William Sprinkle, born and bred on this Gulf coast, who knows the sea-fowl, and the islands where they breed and dwell, as he knows the winds and the lovely, smiling, treacherous Gulf waters. He is game warden, and he and the Royal Tern are the police force for over five hundred square miles of sand-bars, shallow waters, and intricate channels. The man and the boat are two of the chief obstacles in the way of the poachers, the plume-hunters, and eggers, who always threaten these bird sanctuaries.

Many of these poachers are at heart good men, who follow their fathers’ business, just as respectable men on the seacoast once followed the business of wrecking. But when times change and a once acknowledged trade comes under the ban of the law the character of those following it also changes for the worse. Wreckers are no longer respectable, and plume-hunters and eggers are sinking to the same level. The illegal business of killing breeding birds, of leaving nestlings to starve wholesale, and of general ruthless extermination, more and more tends to attract men of the same moral category as those who sell whiskey to Indians and combine the running of “blind pigs” with highway robbery and murder for hire.

In Florida one of the best game wardens of the Audubon Society was killed by these sordid bird-butchers. A fearless man and a good boat are needed to keep such gentry in awe. Captain Sprinkle meets the first requirement, the hull of the Royal Tern the second. But the engines of the Tern are worthless; she can catch no freebooter; she is safe only in the mildest weather. Is there not some bird-lover of means and imagination who will put a good engine in her? Such a service would be very real. As for Captain Sprinkle, his services are, of course, underpaid, his salary bearing no relation to their value. The Biological Survey does its best with its limited means; the Audubon Society adds something extra; but this very efficient and disinterested laborer is worth a good deal more than the hire he receives. The government pays many of its servants, usually those with rather easy jobs, too much; but the best men, who do the hardest work, the men in the life-saving and lighthouse service, the forest-rangers, and those who patrol and protect the reserves of wild life, are almost always underpaid.

Yet, in spite of all the disadvantages, much has been accomplished. This particular reservation was set apart by presidential proclamation in 1905. Captain Sprinkle was at once put in charge. Of the five chief birds, the royal terns, Caspian terns, Cabot’s terns, laughing gulls, and skimmers, there were that season about one thousand nests. This season, ten years later, there are about thirty-five thousand nests. The brown pelicans and Louisiana herons also show a marked increase. The least tern, which had been completely exterminated or driven away, has returned and is breeding in fair numbers.

As we steamed away from the Pass Christian dock dawn was turning to daylight under the still brilliant crescent moon. Soon we saw the red disk of the sun rising behind the pine forest. We left Mississippi Sound, and then were on the Gulf itself. The Gulf was calm, and the still water teemed with life. Each school of mullets or sardines could be told by the queer effect on the water, as of a cloud shadow. Continually we caught glimpses of other fish; and always they were fleeing from death or ravenously seeking to inflict death on the weak. Nature is ruthless, and where her sway is uncontested there is no peace save the peace of death; and the fecund stream of life, especially of life on the lower levels, flows like an immense torrent out of non-existence for but the briefest moment before the enormous majority of the beings composing it are engulfed in the jaws of death, and again go out into the shadow.

Huge rays sprang out of the water and fell back with a resounding splash. Devil-fish, which made the rays look like dwarfs, swam slowly near the surface; some had their mouths wide open as they followed their prey. Globular jellyfish, as big as pumpkins, with translucent bodies, pulsed through the waters; little fishes and crabs swam among their short, thick tentacles and in between the waving walls into which the body was divided. Once we saw the head of a turtle above water; it was a loggerhead turtle, and the head was as large as the head of a man; when I first saw it, above the still water, I had no idea what it was.

By noon we were among the islands of the reservation. We had already passed other and larger islands, for the most part well wooded. On these there were great numbers of coons and minks, and therefore none of the sea-birds which rest on the ground or in low bushes. The coons are more common than the minks and muskrats. In the inundations they are continually being carried out to sea on logs; a planter informed me that on one occasion in a flood he met a log sailing down the swollen Mississippi with no less than eleven coons aboard. Sooner or later castaway coons land on every considerable island off the coast, and if there is fresh water, and even sometimes if there is none, they thrive; and where there are many coons, the gulls, terns, skimmers, and other such birds have very little chance to bring up their young. Coons are fond of rambling along beaches; at low tide they devour shell-fish; and they explore the grass tufts and bushes, and eat nestlings, eggs, and even the sitting birds. If on any island we found numerous coon tracks there were usually few nesting sea-fowl, save possibly on some isolated point. The birds breed most plentifully in the numberless smaller islands—some of considerable size—where there is no water, and usually not a tree. Some of these islands are nothing but sand, with banks and ramparts of shells, while others are fringed with marsh-grass and covered with scrub mangrove. But the occasional fierce tropical storms not only change the channels and alter the shape of many of the islands, but may even break up some very big island. In such case an island with trees and water may for years be entirely uninhabited by coons, and the birds may form huge rookeries thereon. The government should exterminate the coons and minks on all the large islands, so as to enable the birds to breed on them; for on the small islands the storms and tides work huge havoc with the nests.

Captain Young proved himself not only a first-class captain but a first-class pilot through the shifting and tangled maze of channels and islands. The Royal Tern, her engines breaking down intermittently, fell so far in the rear that in the early afternoon we anchored, to wait for her, off an island to which a band of pelicans resorted—they had nested, earlier in the year, on another island some leagues distant. The big birds, forty or thereabouts in number, were sitting on a sand-spit which projected into the water, enjoying a noontide rest. As we approached they rose and flapped lazily out to sea for a few hundred yards before again lighting. Later in the afternoon they began to fly to the fishing-grounds, and back and forth, singly and in small groups. In flying they usually gave a dozen rapid wing-beats, and then sailed for a few seconds. If several were together the leader gave the “time” to the others; they all flapped together, and then all glided together. The neck was carried in a curve, like a heron’s; it was only stretched out straight like a stork’s or bustard’s when the bird was diving. Some of the fishing was done, singly or in parties, in the water, the pelicans surrounding shoals of sardines and shrimps, and scooping them up in their capacious bags. But, although such a large, heavy bird, the brown pelican is an expert wing-fisherman also. A pair would soar round in circles, the bill perhaps pointing downward, instead of, as usual, being held horizontally. Then, when the fish was spied the bird plunged down, almost perpendicularly, the neck stretched straight and rigid, and disappeared below the surface of the water with a thump and splash, and in a couple of seconds emerged, rose with some labor, and flew off with its prey. At this point the pelicans had finished breeding before my arrival—although a fortnight later Mr. Job found thousands of fresh eggs in their great rookeries west of the mouth of the Mississippi. The herons had well-grown nestlings, whereas the terns and gulls were in the midst of the breeding, and the skimmers had only just begun. The pelicans often flew only a few yards, or even feet, above the water, but also at times soared or wheeled twenty or thirty rods in the air, or higher. They are handsome, interesting birds, and add immensely, by their presence, to the pleasure of being out on these waters; they should be completely protected everywhere—as, indeed, should most of these sea-birds.

The two Parker boys—the elder of whom had for years been doing a man’s work in the best fashion, and the younger of whom had just received an appointment to Annapolis—kept us supplied with fish, caught with the hook and rod, except the flounders, which were harpooned. The two boys were untiring; nothing impaired their energy, and no chance of fatigue and exertion, at any time of the day or night, appealed to them save as an exhilarating piece of good fortune. At a time when so large a section of our people, including especially those who claim in a special sense to be the guardians of cultivation, philanthropy, and religion, deliberately make a cult of pacifism, poltroonery, sentimentality, and neurotic emotionalism, it was refreshing to see the fine, healthy, manly young fellows who were emphatically neither “too proud to fight” nor too proud to work, and with whom hard work, and gentle regard for the rights of others, and the joy of life, all went hand in hand.

Toward evening of our first day the weather changed for the worse; the fishers among the party were recalled, and just before nightfall we ran off, and after much groping in the dark we made a reasonably safe anchorage. By midnight the wind fell, dense swarms of mosquitoes came aboard, and, as our mosquito-nets were not well up (thanks partly to our own improvidence, and partly to the violence of the wind, for we were sleeping on deck because of the great heat), we lived in torment until morning. On the subsequent nights we fixed our mosquito-bars so carefully that there was no trouble. Mosquitoes and huge, green-headed horse-flies swarm on most of the islands. I witnessed one curious incident in connection with one of these big, biting horse-flies. A kind of wasp preys on them, and is locally known as the “horse-guard,” or “sheriff-fly,” accordingly. These horse-guards are formidable-looking things and at first rather alarm strangers, hovering round them and their horses; but they never assail beast or man unless themselves molested, when they are ready enough to use their powerful sting. The horses and cattle speedily recognize these big, humming, hornet-like horse-guards as the foes of their tormentors. As we walked over the islands, and the green-headed flies followed us, horse-guards also joined us; and many greenheads and some horse-guards came on board. Usually when the horse-guard secured the greenhead it was pounced on from behind, and there was practically no struggle—the absence of struggle being usual in the world of invertebrates, where the automaton-like actions of both preyer and prey tend to make each case resemble all others in its details. But on one occasion the greenhead managed to turn, so that he fronted his assailant and promptly grappled with him, sinking his evil lancet into the wasp’s body and holding the wasp so tight that the latter could not thrust with its sting. They grappled thus for several minutes. The horse-guard at last succeeded in stabbing its antagonist, and promptly dropped the dead body. Evidently it had suffered much, for it vigorously rubbed the wounded spot with its third pair of legs, walked hunched up, and was altogether a very sick creature.

On the following day we visited two or three islands which the man-of-war birds were using as roosts. These birds are the most wonderful fliers in the world. No other bird has such an expanse of wing in proportion to the body weight. No other bird of its size seems so absolutely at home in the air. Frigate-birds—as they are also called—hardly ever light on the water, yet they are sometimes seen in mid-ocean. But they like to live in companies, near some coast. They have very long tails, usually carried closed, looking like a marlin-spike, but at times open, like a great pair of scissors, in the course of their indescribably graceful aerial evolutions. We saw them soaring for hours at a time, sometimes to all seeming absolutely motionless as they faced the wind. They sometimes caught fish for themselves, just rippling the water to seize surface swimmers, or pouncing with startling speed on any fish which for a moment leaped into the air to avoid another shape of ravenous death below. If the frigate-bird caught the fish transversely, it rose, dropped its prey, and seized it again by the head before it struck the water. But it also obtained its food in less honorable fashion—by robbing other birds. The pelicans were plundered by all their fish-eating neighbors, even the big terns; but the man-of-war bird robbed the robbers. We saw three chase a royal tern, a very strong flier; the tern towered, ascending so high we could hardly see it, but in great spirals its pursuers rose still faster, until one was above it; and then the tern dropped the fish, which was snatched in mid-air by one of the bandits. Captain Sprinkle had found these frigate-birds breeding on one of the islands the previous year, each nest being placed in a bush and containing two eggs. We visited the island; the big birds—the old males jet black, the females with white breasts, the young males with white heads—were there in numbers, perched on the bushes, and rising at our approach. But there were no nests, and, although we found one fresh egg, it was evidently a case of sporadic laying, having nothing to do with home-building.

On another island, where we also found a big colony of frigate-birds roosting on the mangrove and Gulf tamarisk scrub, there was a small heronry of the Louisiana heron. The characteristic flimsy heron nests were placed in the thick brush, which was rather taller than a man’s head. The young ones had left the nests, but were still too young for anything in the nature of sustained flight. They were, like all young herons, the pictures of forlorn and unlovely inefficiency, as they flapped a few feet away and strove with ungainly awkwardness to balance themselves on the yielding bush tops. The small birds we found on the islands were red-winged blackbirds, Louisiana seaside sparrows, and long-billed marsh-wrens—which last had built their domed houses among the bushes, in default of tall reeds. On one island Job discovered a night-hawk on her nest. She fluttered off, doing the wounded-bird trick, leaving behind her an egg and a newly hatched chick. He went off to get his umbrella-house, and when he returned the other egg was hatching, and another little chick, much distressed by the heat, appeared. He stood up a clamshell to give it shade, and then, after patient waiting, the mother returned, and he secured motion-pictures of her and her little family. These birds offer very striking examples of real protective coloration.

The warm shallows, of course, teem with mollusks as well as with fish—not to mention the shrimps, which go in immense silver schools, and which we found delicious eating. The occasional violent storms, when they do not destroy islands, throw up on them huge dikes or ramparts of shells, which makes the walking hard on the feet.

There are more formidable things than shells in the warm shallows. The fishermen as they waded near shore had to be careful lest they should step on a sting-ray. When a swim was proposed as our boat swung at anchor in mid-channel, under the burning midday sun, Captain Sprinkle warned us against it because he had just seen a large shark. He said that sharks rarely attacked men, but that he had known of two instances of their doing so in Mississippi Sound, one ending fatally. In this case the man was loading a sand schooner. He was standing on a scaffolding, the water half-way up his thighs, and the shark seized him and carried him into deep water. Boats went to his assistance at once, scaring off the shark; but the man’s leg had been bitten nearly in two; he sank, and was dead when he was finally found.

The following two days we continued our cruise. We steamed across vast reaches of open Gulf, the water changing from blue to yellow as it shoaled. Now and then we sighted or passed low islands of bare sand and scrub. The sky was sapphire, the sun splendid and pitiless, the heat sweltering. We came across only too plain evidence of the disasters always hanging over the wilderness folk. A fortnight previously a high tide and a heavy blow had occurred coincidentally. On the islands where the royal terns especially loved to nest the high water spelled destruction. The terns nest close together, in bird cities, so to speak, and generally rather low on the beaches. On island after island the waves had washed over the nests and destroyed them by the ten thousand. The beautiful royal terns were the chief sufferers. On one island there was a space perhaps nearly an acre in extent where the ground was covered with their eggs, which had been washed thither by the tide; most of them had then been eaten by those smart-looking highwaymen, the trim, slate-headed laughing gulls. The terns had completely deserted the island and had gone in their thousands to another; but some skimmers remained and were nesting. The westernmost island, we visited was outside the national reservation, and that very morning it had been visited and plundered by a party of eggers. The eggs had been completely cleared from most of the island, gulls and terns had been shot, and the survivors were in a frantic state of excitement. It was a good object-lesson in the need of having reserves, and laws protecting wild life, and a sufficient number of efficient officers to enforce the laws and protect the reserves. Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying that “the game belongs to the people.” So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The “greatest good of the greatest number” applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life, and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources, are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.

On some of the islands we found where green turtles had crawled up the beaches to bury their eggs in the sand. We came across two such nests. One of them I dug up myself. The eggs we took to the boat, where they were used in making delicious pancakes, which went well with fresh shrimp, flounder, weakfish, mackerel, and mullet.

The laughing gulls and the black skimmers were often found with their nests intermingled, and they hovered over our heads with the same noisy protest against our presence. Although they often—not always—nested so close together, the nests were in no way alike. The gulls’ dark-green eggs, heavily blotched with brown, two or three in number, lay on a rude platform of marsh-grass, which was usually partially sheltered by some bush or tuft of reeds, or, if on wet ground, was on a low pile of drift-wood. The skimmers’ eggs, light whitish green and less heavily marked with brown, were, when the clutch was full, four to six in number. There was no nest at all, nothing but a slight hollow in the sand, or gravel or shell débris. In the gravel or among the shell débris it was at first hard to pick out the eggs; but as our eyes grew accustomed to them we found them without difficulty. Sometimes we found the nests of gull and skimmer within a couple of feet of one another, one often under or in a bush, the other always out on the absolutely bare open. Considering the fact that the gull stood ready, with cannibal cheerfulness, to eat the skimmer’s eggs if opportunity offered, I should have thought that to the latter bird such association would have seemed rather grewsome; but, as a matter of fact, there seemed to be no feeling of constraint whatever on either side, and the only fighting I saw, and this of a very mild type, was among the gulls themselves. As we approached their nesting-places all these birds rose, and clamored loudly as they hovered over us, lighting not far off, and returning to their nests as we moved away.

The skimmers are odd, interesting birds, and on the whole were, if anything, rather tamer even than the royal terns and laughing gulls, their constant associates. They came close behind these two in point of abundance. They flew round and round us, and to and fro, continually uttering their loud single note, the bill being held half open as they did so. The lower mandible, so much longer than the upper, gives them a curious look. Ordinarily the bill is held horizontally and closed; but when after the small fish on which they feed the lower mandible is dropped to an angle of forty-five degrees, ploughing lightly the surface of the water and scooping up the prey. They fly easily, with at ordinary times rather deliberate strokes of their long wings, wheeling and circling, and continually crying if roused from their nests. When flying the white of their plumage is very conspicuous, and as they flapped around every detail of form and coloration, of bill and plumage, could be observed.

When sitting they appear almost black, and, in consequence, when on their nests, on the beaches or on the white-shell dikes, they are visible half a mile off, and stand out as distinctly as a crow on a snow-bank. They are perfectly aware of this, and make no attempt to elude observation, any more than the gulls and terns do. The fledglings are concealingly colored, and crouch motionless, so as to escape notice from possible enemies; and the eggs, while they do not in color harmonize with the surroundings to the extent that they might artificially be made to do, yet easily escape the eye when laid on a beach composed of broken sea-shells. But the coloration of the adults is of a strikingly advertising character, under all circumstances, and especially when they are sitting on their nests. Among all the vagaries of the fetichistic school of concealing-colorationists none is more amusing than the belief that the coloration of the adult skimmer is ever, under any conditions, of a concealing quality. Sometimes the brooding skimmer attempted to draw us away from the nest by fluttering off across the sand like a wounded bird. Like the gulls, the skimmers moved about much more freely on the ground than did the terns.

The handsome little laughing gull was found everywhere, and often in numerous colonies, although these colonies were not larger than those of the skimmer, and in no way approached the great breeding assemblages of the royal terns on the two or three islands where the latter especially congregated. They were noisy birds, continually uttering a single loud note, but only occasionally the queer laughter which gives them their name. They looked very trim and handsome, both on the wing and when swimming or walking; and their white breasts and dark heads made them very conspicuous on their nests, no matter whether these were on open ground or partially concealed in a bush or reed cluster. Like the skimmers, although perhaps not quite so markedly, their coloration was strongly advertising at all times, including when on their nests. Their relations with their two constant associates and victims, the skimmer and the royal tern—the three being about the same size—seemed to me very curious. The gull never molested the eggs of either of the other birds if the parents were sitting on them or were close by. But gulls continually broke and devoured eggs, especially terns’ eggs, which had been temporarily abandoned. Nor was this all. When a colony of nesting royal terns flew off at our approach, the hesitating advent of the returning parents was always accompanied by the presence of a few gulls. Commonly the birds lit a few yards away from the eggs, on the opposite side from the observer, and then by degrees moved forward among the temporarily forsaken eggs. The gulls were usually among the foremost ranks, and each, as it walked or ran to and fro, would now and then break or carry off an egg; yet I never saw a tern interfere or seem either alarmed or angered. These big terns are swifter and better fliers than the gulls, and the depredations take place all the time before their eyes. Yet they pay no attention that I could discern to the depredation. Compare this with the conduct of king-birds to those other egg-robbers, the crows. Imagine a king-bird, or, for that matter, a mocking-bird or thrasher, submitting with weak good humor to such treatment! If these big terns had even a fraction of the intelligence and spirit of king-birds, no gull would venture within a half-mile of their nesting-grounds.

It is one of the innumerable puzzles of biology that the number of eggs a bird lays seems to have such small influence on the abundance of the species. A royal tern lays one egg, rarely two; a gull three; a skimmer four to six. The gull eats the eggs of the other two, especially of the tern; as far as we know, all have the same foes; yet the abundance of the birds is in inverse ratio to the number of their eggs. Of course, there is an explanation; but we cannot even guess at it as yet. With this, as with so many other scientific questions, all we can say is, with Huxley, that we are not afraid to announce that we do not know.

The beautiful royal terns were common enough, flying in the air and diving boldly after little fish. We listened with interest to their cry, which was a kind of creaking bleat. We admired the silver of their plumage as they flew overhead. But we did not come across vast numbers of them assembled for breeding until the fourth day. Then we found them on an island on which Captain Sprinkle told us he had never before found them, although both skimmers and gulls had always nested on it. The previous fall he had waged war with traps against the coons, which, although there was no fresh water, had begun to be plentiful on the island. He had caught a number, two escaping, one with the loss of a hind foot, and one with the loss of a fore foot. The island was seven miles long, curved, with occasional stretches of salt marsh, and with reaches of scrub, but no trees. Most of it was bare sand. We saw three coon tracks, two being those of the three-footed animals; evidently the damaged leg was now completely healed and was used like the others, punching a round hole in the sand. We saw one coon, at dusk, hunting for oysters at the water’s edge.

The gulls and skimmers were nesting on this island in great numbers, but the terns were many times more plentiful. There were thousands upon thousands of them. Their breeding-places were strung in a nearly straight line for a couple of miles along the sand flats. A mile off, from our boat, we were attracted by their myriad forms, glittering in the brilliant sunlight as they rose and fell and crossed and circled over the nesting-places. The day was bright and hot, and the sight was one of real fascination. As we approached a breeding colony the birds would fly up, hover about, and resettle when we drew back a sufficient distance. The eggs, singly, or rarely in pairs, were placed on the bare sand, with no attempt at a nest, the brooding bird being sometimes but a few inches, sometimes two or three feet, from the nearest of its surrounding neighbors. The colonies of breeders were scattered along the shore for a couple of miles, each one being one or two hundred yards, or over, from the next. In one such breeding colony I counted a little over a thousand eggs; there were several of smaller size, and a few that were larger, one having perhaps three times as many. A number of the eggs, perhaps ten per cent, had been destroyed by the gulls; the coons had ravaged some of the gulls’ nests, which were in or beside the scrub. The eggs of the terns, being so close together and on the bare sand, were very conspicuous; they were visible to a casual inspection at a distance of two or three hundred yards, and it was quite impossible for any bird or beast to overlook them near by. These gregarious nesters, whose eggs are gathered in a big nursery, cannot profit by any concealing coloration of the eggs. The eggs of the royal and Cabot’s terns were perhaps a shade less conspicuous than the darker eggs of the Caspian tern, all of them lying together; but on that sand, and crowded into such a regular nursery, none of them could have escaped the vision of any foe with eyes. As I have said, the eggs of the skimmer, as the clutches were more scattered, were much more difficult to make out, on the shell beaches. Concealing coloration has been a survival factor only as regards a minority, and is responsible for the precise coloration of only a small minority, of adult birds and mammals; how much and what part it plays, and in what percentage of cases, in producing the coloration of eggs, is a subject which is well worth serious study. As regards most of these sea-birds which nest gregariously, their one instinct for safety at nesting time seems to be to choose a lonely island. This is their only, and sufficient, method of outwitting their foes at the crucial period of their lives.

We found only eggs in the nurseries, not young birds. In each nursery there were always a number of terns brooding their eggs, and the air above was filled with a ceaseless flutter and flashing of birds leaving their nests and returning to them—or eggs, rather, for, speaking accurately, there were no nests. The sky above was alive with the graceful, long-winged things. As we approached the nurseries the birds would begin to leave. If we halted before the alarm became universal, those that stayed always served as lures to bring back those that had left. If we came too near, the whole party rose in a tumult of flapping wings; and when all had thus left it was some time before any returned. With patience it was quite possible to get close to the sitting birds; I noticed that in the heat many had their bills open. Those that were on the wing flew round and round us, creaking and bleating, and often so near that every detail of form and color was vivid in our eyes. The immense majority were royal terns, big birds with orange beaks. With them were a very few Caspian terns, still bigger, and with bright-red beaks, and quite a number of Cabot’s terns, smaller birds with yellow-tipped black beaks. These were all nesting together, in the same nurseries.

It has been said on excellent authority that terns can always be told from gulls because, whereas the latter carry their beaks horizontally, the terns carry their bills pointing downward, “like a mosquito.” My own observations do not agree with this statement. When hovering over water where there are fish, and while watching for their prey, terns point the bill downward, just as pelicans do in similar circumstances; just as gulls often do when they are seeking to spy food below them. But normally, on the great majority of the occasions when I saw them, the terns, like the gulls, carried the bill in the same plane as the body.

On another island we found a small colony of Forster’s tern; and we saw sooty terns, and a few of the diminutive least terns. But I was much more surprised to find on, or rather over, one island a party of black terns. As these are inland birds, most of which at this season are breeding around the lakes of our Northwestern country, I was puzzled by their presence. Still more puzzling was it to come across a party of turnstones, with males in full, brightly varied nuptial dress, for turnstones during the breeding season live north of the arctic circle, in the perpetual sunlight of the long polar day. On the other hand, a couple of big oyster-catchers seemed, and were, entirely in place; they are striking birds and attract attention at a great distance. We saw dainty Wilson’s plover with their chicks, and also semipalmated sandpipers.

On the morning of the 12th we returned to Pass Christian. I was very glad to have seen this bird refuge. With care and protection the birds will increase and grow tamer and tamer, until it will be possible for any one to make trips among these reserves and refuges, and to see as much as we saw, at even closer quarters. No sight more beautiful and more interesting could be imagined.

I am far from disparaging the work of the collector who is also a field naturalist. On the contrary, I fully agree with Mr. Joseph Grinnell’s recent plea for him. His work is indispensable. It is far more important to protect his rights than to protect those of the sportsman; for the serious work of the collector is necessary in order to prevent the scientific study of ornithology from lapsing into mere dilettanteism indulged in as a hobby by men and women with opera-glasses. Moreover, sportsmen also have their rights, and it is folly to sacrifice these rights to mere sentimentality—for, of course, sentimentality is as much the antithesis and bane of healthy sentiment as bathos is of pathos. If thoroughly protected, any bird or mammal would speedily increase in numbers to such a degree as to drive man from the planet; and of recent years this has been signally proved by actual experience as regards certain creatures, notably as regards the wapiti in the Yellowstone (where the prime need now is to provide for the annual killing of at least five thousand), and to a less extent as regards deer in Vermont.

But as yet these cases are rare exceptions. As yet with the great majority of our most interesting and important wild birds and beasts the prime need is to protect them, not only by laws limiting the open season and the size of the individual bag, but especially by the creation of sanctuaries and refuges. And, while the work of the collector is still necessary, the work of the trained faunal naturalist, who is primarily an observer of the life histories of the wild things, is even more necessary. The progress made in the United States, of recent years, in creating and policing bird refuges, has been of capital importance.

At nightfall of the third day of our trip, when we were within sight of Fort Jackson and of the brush and low trees which here grow alongside the Mississippi, we were joined by Mr. M. L. Alexander, the president of the Conservation Commission, on the commission’s boat Louisiana. He was more than kind and courteous, as were all my Louisiana friends. He and Mr. Miller told me much of the work of the commission; work not only of the utmost use to Louisiana, but of almost equal consequence to the rest of the country, if only for the example set.

The commission was not founded until 1912, yet it has already accomplished a remarkable amount along many different lines. The work of reforestation of great stretches of denuded, and at present worthless, pine land has begun; work which will turn lumbering into a permanent Louisiana industry by making lumber a permanent crop asset, like corn or wheat, only taking longer to mature—an asset which it is equally important not to destroy. In taking care of the mineral resources a stop has been put to waste as foolish as it was criminal; for example, a gas-well which had flowed to waste until six million dollars’ worth of gas had been lost was stopped and stored at the cost of five thousand one hundred dollars. The oysters are now farmed and husbanded, the beds being leased in such fashion that there is a steady improvement of the product. Louisiana is peculiarly rich in fish, and a policy has been inaugurated which, if persevered in, will make the paddle-fish industry as important as the sturgeon fishery is in Russia. Not only do the waters of Louisiana now belong to the State, but also the land under the water, this last proving in practise an admirable provision. Some three hundred thousand acres of game reserves and wild-life refuges (mostly uninhabitable by man) have now been established. These have largely been gifts to the State by wise and generous private individuals and corporations, the chief donors being Messrs. Edward A. McIlhenny and Charles Willis Ward, Mrs. Russell Sage, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The Conservation Commission has accepted the gifts, and is taking care of the reserves and refuges through its State wardens, with the result that wild birds of many kinds, including even the wary geese, which come down as winter visitants by the hundred thousand, have become very tame, and many beautiful birds which were on the verge of extinction are now re-established and increasing in numbers. These reserves, which lie for the most part in the low country along the coast, are west of the Mississippi.

Job had just come from a visit to the private reserve of Edward A. McIlhenny on Avery Island. It is the most noteworthy reserve in the country. It includes four thousand acres, and is near the Ward-McIlhenny reserve, which they have given to the State—a king’s gift! Avery’s Island is very beautiful. A great, shallow, artificial lake, surrounded by dwellings, fields, lawns, a railroad, and ox-wagon road, does not seem an ideal home for herons; but it has proved such under the care of Mr. McIlhenny. He started the reserve twenty years ago with eight snowy herons. Now it contains about forty thousand herons of several species. Complete freedom from molestation has rendered the birds extraordinarily tame. The beautiful snow-white lesser egret, which had been almost exterminated by the plume-hunters, flourishes by the thousand; the greater egret has been bothered so by the smaller one that it has retired before it; its heronries are now to be found mainly in other parts of the protected region. Many other kinds of heron, and many waterfowl, literally throng the place. Ducks winter by the thousand, and, most unexpectedly, some even of the northern kinds, like the gadwall, now stay to breed. Most of these birds are so tame that there is little difficulty in taking photographs of them.

The Audubon societies, and all similar organizations, are doing a great work for the future of our country. Birds should be saved because of utilitarian reasons; and, moreover, they should be saved because of reasons unconnected with any return in dollars and cents. A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral. The extermination of the passenger-pigeon meant that mankind was just so much poorer; exactly as in the case of the destruction of the cathedral at Rheims. And to lose the chance to see frigate-birds soaring in circles above the storm, or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach—why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.