I have been looking through a two volume birding book published in the 1920’s that has lain unregarded for too long in our collection. It contains some fascinating gems from another era, another mind set altogether. the book is called “Birds of our Country and of the Dominions, Colonies and Dependencies” by one David Seth-Smith who was a curator at the London Zoological Society 90 or more years ago and certainly extremely knowledgeable.
Some sample quotes will give you the flavour of main-stream birding-thought back then:
“As Britain lies so close to the continent our birds have had very little chance of becoming specialised by isolation. But in many cases they have formed local subspecies, generally distinguished by being less bright in colour; which is curious, since the human inhabitants of our islands are, on the whole, better looking than their neighbours, the ladies especially, whose British brilliancy of colouring always evokes admiration.”
“As the Sparrow is a good deal too common in most places, it is an act of merit to take away its eggs and a collection of Sparrow’s eggs, to show all possible variations, would be far worthier of encouragement than on composed of a number of eggs of various species”.
“North America possesses what seems to be the most primitive of the Siskins, the Pine Siskin, which is but a plain streaky-brown bird”.
He believes that Corvidae would be no loss if extirpated from the countryside as they kill game birds, which we must protect, but would be welcome in cities as scavengers and insect devourers (sic).
He also noted a decline in the Swallow population over a number of years … nothing is new under the ornithological sun.
At the same period, one Audrey Seton Gordon MBOU was writing about “Birds with a Bad reputation” and noted that “It would not be fair to class (the tribe of Hawks) as criminals, for they prey on and attack chiefly adult birds, which they kill in the open in fair fight. They do not , as a rule, degrade themselves by carrying off innocent nestlings”. … well, who would want to tick a “degraded” bird!? She considers that all birds and animals have a right to live and increase as do humans but that this does not extend to “those birds which are undoubted criminals”. Of all the birds species, the most “wished” is deemed to be the Great Black-backed Gull.
And this was all within our parent’s memories.