Birds In Cincinnati Failed Acclimatization

About a rich German who tried to bring songbirds to Cincinnati in the 1800s his failure at acclimatizing the birds.

The Acclimatizers. As he looked around the city of Cincinnati in 1872, Andrew Erkenbrecher was depressed by the fact that he did not see the "wonderful little songbirds that had brightened the days of his youth back in Germany. Being a man of action, Erkenbrecher promptly embarked on a bold plan to correct this oversight. He would bring to Cincinnati the songbirds of Europe--and thus render this city on the banks of the Ohio a little more bearable for human beings."

Erkenbrecher, who had come from Germany at age 15 and had amassed a large fortune, arranged to import a large shipment of European birds to the U.S., never thinking of the immense problems that might be involved in the project. He announced that he would spend $5,000 to bring these birds to Cincinnati, adding, "It may be expected that the ennobling influence of the song of birds will be felt by the inhabitants."

Actually, over a 2-year period, Erkenbrecher spent $9,000 buying and transporting his songbirds, at an average of about $4.50 per pair. Four thousand birds were imported, including the robin redbreast, the wagtail, the skylark, the starling, the dunnock, the blackbird, the goldfinch, the nightingale, the song thrush, the great tit, the dutch tit, the Hungarian thrush, the missel thrush, the crossbill, the siskin, the dipper, the corncrake, and even some house sparrows.

"To acclimatize these imports to Cincinnati conditions, the Cincinnati Acclimatization Society housed them in the garret of a towering old mansion standing in a part of the city known as Burnet Woods. Then, on a morning in May, Erkenbrecher and some of his bird-loving associates released the immigrants from their lengthy captivity."

There was considerable excitement as the birds flew into the warm blue skies that day. But gradually, the birds began to disappear. "For all the fine intentions of this and similar acclimatization societies across this land and others, failure greeted their efforts more often than success."

The ironic thing is that there were many birds already native to Cincinnati of which Erkenbrecher was apparently unaware. In the early 1800s, John J. Audubon had worked in Cincinnati and he was impressed with the variety of bird life in the Ohio River Valley. More than 300 species had been recorded, including songbirds like wood thrushes, orioles, low-breasted chats, and warblers.

Still Erkenbrecher insisted on importing the European birds, all for nought. In its 1884 bulletin, the Cincinnati Society of Natural History listed the birds that he had brought to America, and added, "While we deem the above facts of sufficient ornithological importance to merit a record in permanent form, and cannot but admire the sentiment which promoted the introduction of these birds, we may properly at some time express the opinion that the general principle is, zoologically speaking, a wrong one. . . ."

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