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The Historic Toll of Fashion on Bird Populations

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Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. One early falsehood spread by manufacturers of hats adorned with feathers was that the feathers were gathered from the ground. But as whole birds or parts of birds began to adorn hats the specious nature of that story was revealed. The Empress of Germany Bird of Paradise measuring over two feet from beck to the end of its exquisite tail was hunted almost to extinction and entire stuffed birds were incorporated into hats.   In the United States alone, almost 5 million birds a year were killed for the millinery industry.  With feathers selling for as much as thirty-two dollars an ounce, and factory workers being paid a fairly good wage of two dollars and fifty cents a week, the plumage wars became an example of conservationist pitted against people trying to make a living, with poachers eventually shooting some game wardens.

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Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.