The Slaughter of Birds, 1876


"The caging of small birds does not by any means account for the great number captured by vagrant trappers. There is now a demand for birds of this kind far beyond that either for the table or for cages. The source of this new demand is in one of the whimsical frenzies of feminine fashion, and while under the influence of this irrational furore, no more regard is paid to the claims of birds on our compassion than is felt by slave-catchers for the victims whom they drive away into hopeless servitude. It is painful to speak of cruel outrages being committed through the weak vanity of ladies. Only thinking of what will minister to a feverish fancy, they seem indifferent to the wrongs which they are the cause of inflicting on the lower animals.


Black English Straw Bonnet furnished on the inside with a band of red velvet, on which are set bows of the same material and a white rose. The trimming consists of cream coloured lace, loops and ends of black gros grain and four black wings.

We allow that feathers are an adornment to the female head-dress; and kept within reasonable bounds, this species of decoration is far from being objectionable. The case is very different when we come to consider that gross abuse of the practice which consists in wearing the feathered skins of wrens, humming-birds, nightingales, larks, finches and robin-redbreasts. Are ladies who so decorate themselves aware of the fact that these poor little birds are for the most part skinned while alive, in order that their plumage may retain that degree of gloss which is not ordinarily found in skins that have been flayed from the body after death? Talk of vivisection! Here is something infinitely more atrocious and devoid of any excuse. Vast numbers of birds are either stripped of their skins, or plucked of their feathers during life. In some cases birds are deprived of their wings, for the wings of certain birds are deemed a superior decoration to head-dresses. Let us hope that the little creatures subjected to these cruelties are killed in the process of being rifled of their plumage, instead of enduring the pangs of protracted dissolution.

The world at large is laid under contribution for birds. Germany, North and South America, the islands of the Pacific and the Atlantic, yield their tribute. The demand for canary feathers goes considerably beyond the capacity of the home market. We have seen it stated that a wealthy lady, desirous of outshining her neighbours had a dress which blazed with the feathers of a vast number of canaries. If this be true, we wonder how a lady could show herself with any consciousness of self-respect."

Harper's Bazar, 1876   


For further information on 1870s clothing, please see our article THE BUSTLE ERA - Fashion in the 1870s & 1880s.

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