Looking Back: The magpie massacre of the 1930s

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MEEKER — The songbirds return to Meeker seems a little premature with our recent snowstorms but their sound was welcomed as a harbinger of spring. There was a time that the familiar sight and sound of one of their species was not so welcome and a local organization put a bounty on the noisy black and white jays to try and reduce their population. The cyclical population explosion of various varmints was recalled by many long-time area residents, the year that the distinctive, noisy, black and white chatterbox of the bird kingdom was bagged for money remains memorable to many.
After being cooped up all winter long, local youngsters have always made a little extra money by offering their help for spring cleaning chores in both the town and county. Mowing lawns, moving trash and washing windows are time-honored traditional tasks but over the years unusual opportunities such as the bird bounty appeared.
Writing about the phenomenon in one of his Meeker Herald columns Rich Lyttle recalled, “one of the interesting projects of the Commercial Club in the 1930s was to collect and pay a bounty on magpie eggs and heads. The eggs were worth a penny and the heads brought a nickel. Many of Meeker’s youth took advantage of this opportunity to pick up some “easy cash.”
The Commercial Club served as a type of town booster club and according to Lyttle did “many of the things that the chamber of commerce would later do. Located next to the First National Bank building, it offered a venue for such recreational activities as card playing and billiards, as well as a gathering place for meetings or dances. It was no longer in operation by the early 1950s after the building was sold to the American Legion.” Lyttle mentioned that it became illegal to kill the magpies as well, so that opportunity was never again offered.
Most of the ranchers and farmers who spent much time trying to keep up with the booming populations of certain varmints that made ranching and farming so difficult said that taking care of “bidness” always involved shooting them. These days, turkey buzzards have become a nuisance to local homeowners, as their constant noise and piles of droppings all over the yard continue year after year. Don’t look for a buzzard bounty sign posted in a local business window soon, as they are also protected.