birding

Had it not been for Ohio’s duck hunters, much of Ohio’s marshland, which is so important to both birding and hunting today, may well have been lost to development.

Birding vs. hunting

"There’s a singular reason that some of the best Lake Erie marshes in Ohio have been saved from destruction. One reason, two words: duck hunters. It sounds blunt and oversimplified, but from the viewpoint of wildlife, duck hunters saved the marshes.”

During settlement, the Buckeye State lost an estimated 95% of its original wetlands, much of that the Great Black Swamp, which once covered nearly all of northwestern Ohio and northeastern Indiana. That gigantic region was a haven for wildlife of all sorts — not just waterfowl — as the water slowly drained into the vast marshes that ringed the western edge of Lake Erie from Toledo to Sandusky.

Feathers from some birds, such as the great egret, were in such demand by the millinery trade that they were worth twice their weight in gold.

A feather in your cap?

Sometimes, it’s good to remember just how far we’ve come in wildlife conservation.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, bird feathers were the fashion fad in the millinery — hatmaking — trade. Some feathers, especially plumes from great egrets and snowy egrets, were in such demand that they were literally worth twice their weight in gold. During the 1890s alone, it’s estimated that 5 million birds were killed annually for their feathers. To make matters worse, those birds were taken almost exclusively during the breeding season, their eggs left to rot or their hatchlings to starve and die.

Screech oil

Birds of a feather

A professor of biology and ecology at Ashland University, Merrill Tawse has been running the same wild-bird survey route annually for more than 40 years. It’s not for his work, though; it’s purely for pleasure.  

Before 1900, rural people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “side hunt.” Sides (teams) were chosen, and team members fanned out through the countryside with their rifles and shotguns. Whichever team amassed the most feathered or furred quarry by the end of the day won the contest.