One of my favourite questions is “how do we know what we know?” This fascinates me both as a historian and as an environmental educator. I love seeing range maps for different species. I really enjoy using iNaturalist, and clicking on the profile of a species to see where else other users have logged seeing them. But how did people, historically, get a sense of the range of migratory animals like many bird species? That’s where bird banding comes in.
Bird bands are little metal bands attached around the legs of captured birds. They include text about the bird and where it was banded, and usually direct the finder to send in the band along with information on where the bird was found. They can create discrete data points. Birds first started to be banded in this way in Europe in the 1890s and a decade or two later in North America.
Jack Miner was famous in his day for his bird sanctuary and bird banding projects. He particularly specialized in Canada Geese, which he held as being morally upright (contrasted with predatory birds of prey, which he characterized as villainous and cannibalistic). He has been quoted as saying, “To know the Canada goose is to love him forever. You cannot show me any of his actions that one need be ashamed of, not one.”
Miner certainly anthropomorphized animals and spent many years working to reduce the populations of birds of prey. These were early years in conservation work and different conservation philosophies abounded. Jack Miner in particular very much ascribed to the Christian view that God had placed the animals on the Earth for “Man’s” use. He also didn’t believe in the balance of nature, but that humans should be the ultimate arbiters of which animals should be protected, and which killed, based on their usefulness to humans. He did have some conflict with government scientists who were working to standardize bird banding in the 1920s, as he felt it was important to include Christian messages on his bands.
Jack Miner’s ideas were very influential, and he drew attention to the importance of migratory birds like Canada Geese. In 37 years of bird banding, he did gather useful data on the length of the lives of waterfowl and even crows, their migration routes, and migration seasons. He was recognized in his lifetime, receiving the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to conservation. He was very well-known for managing a bird sanctuary in which he baited in Canada Geese by the hundreds, and even thousands, every year. He apparently also kept pet deer?
Tina Loo has a fascinating essay on Miner’s messy and conflicting role in early scientific bird conservation in Canada in the 1920s through 1940s in her book States of Nature: Conserving Canada’s Wildlife in the Twentieth Century. I definitely recommend it as a good starting point to learn more about this man and his work! In the meantime, I would like to share with you a selection of fascinating and truly delightful photographs of Jack Miner and his geese.
One thought on “Jack Miner’s Bird Sanctuary and the Early History of Bird Banding in Canada”
Reblogged this on Too Many Sparrows and commented:
I wrote a blog post on my history blog on the early history of bird banding in Canada – it may be of interest to the nature nerds on here!