An Eastern Great Egret in breeding plumage at nest.
J A Leach writing on Egrets in 1912:
Man's cupidity and selfishness, and woman's desire for ornament, seem to have doomed these birds to total extermination, for the plume trade, which is responsible for some of the "most abominable cruelty practiced in the animal world," is a war of extermination. Egrets are shy, and are approachable only in the breeding season. At that time they are, in obedience to parental instincts, brave in defence of their young. It is just then that the plume-hunters visit the rookeries and shoot the parents, leaving the helpless, almost fully-fledged, young to die in the nest, so high overhead. And all for what? Could anyone who has seen the devastated nests, with the famished bodies of the fledglings rotting in the sun, ever take pleasure in Egret plumes decking the head of a sister or wife? Women of refinement and tender heart will refuse to wear the proceeds of human cruelty. Those engaged in the trade resort to the mean trick of calling the plumes "Osprey plumes." Now, the Osprey is a Fish-Hawk, and so possibly of little use to the land-dweller, but these plumes grow on the back and neck of a valuable insect destroyer. The extent of this trade is appalling. At one plume sale, held in London on 4th August, 1909, the breeding plumes of 24,000 birds were offered for sale. Think of it! The slow starvation of 40,000 nestlings, the death of 64,000 birds, to provide the plumes for one day's sale. No, ladies, if you consider you are in need of ornament, wear ostrich plumes and pheasants' feathers, for these do not involve the death of a bird, but rather the reverse, for the greater the demand for these feathers, the more birds will be bred; but spare the Egret.
An Australian Bird Book, 1912, 2nd Ed. p53.
by J A Leach, M.Sc (1870-1929).