Board and Lodging: Birds Only

Bendick, of Alberta, has discovered how to make wild life protection pay a handsome profit


Board and Lodging: Birds Only

Bendick, of Alberta, has discovered how to make wild life protection pay a handsome profit


Board and Lodging: Birds Only

Bendick, of Alberta, has discovered how to make wild life protection pay a handsome profit


WE WERE motoring from Calgary to the northward on a hot July day and when nearing Leduc, some twenty-five miles from Edmonton, a sign at a crossroad leading eastward attracted our attention. “Bendick Bros. Wild Game Farm,” it read, and a hand pointed down a leafy highway shaded by pleasant trees.

“That sounds interesting,” exclaimed one of the party.

So past the pointing hand we went down a seductive road running beside some of the prettiest parkland farms in Alberta, until we met another sign indicating that we had arrived at our destination, Grathside Farm. Here we left the workaday world to enter a place as charming as fairyland, where life is far from ordinary, but where one man’s love of the wild birds, combined with his need to make a living, have united to produce not only a unique industry but a shrine of rare beauty.

In the neat, grassy lane bordered with fragrant shrubberies, where lowing cows heralded the approach of evening milking time, we were met at the gate leading to a comfortable farmhouse, by a tall, rugged man of pleasing countenance, attired in workmanlike knickers, shirt and laced high boots, who, quietening the leaping dogs, said he was Bendick, and welcomed us to his Eden.

Through the gate and within the garden lovely vistas opened. Over trim grassplots stately peacocks were strutting regally in the glory of the setting sun. From a row of hives came the steady hum of bees storing away the day’s gathering of honey. Everywhere ran pretty narrow waterways, joining ponds in the distance, and over them hung pleasant bridges from which might be viewed or sensed the movings, chitter-chatter or gentle swimmings of birdlings in the rushes, reeds and willow shrubs bordering the canals. On the farther lakes and ponds, shimmering in the rosy evening glow of the departing sun, the water was almost hidden by the density of aquatic life on its bosom, where white and black swans, ducks, geese and other birds swam happily against a background of overhanging trees and distant farm lands.

From clumps of bushes nearer our feet and on every hand, exotic birds of long and lovely plumage emerged with an air of perfect security to delight the eye. In

sawed-off hollow tree-trunks, low enough for one to touch them, wood ducks and other birds sat serenely on their nests. In the air arose a perpetual clamor of bird conversation or song, through which occasionally there fell the harsh honk of the big Canada goose, or the sad, sorrowful moan of the mourning dove, or the strange utterings of the sandhill crane.

And over and under all there was the feeling of the fluttering of many winged creatures, the rustle of nesting birds, the patter of feet, the startling sense that here lived thousands of wild beings which had no fear of man.

The Naturalist Reaps a Bird Harvest

"DUT how did you do it, Mr. Bendick?” D we asked the tall man, who moved so quietly, but pridefully over his domain, now followed by a curious albino collie with white hair and pink eyes, or trailed by a big cat which plays among the birds but “was brought up never to catch or kill one,” or accompanied by the hand-

some brown setter which will retrieve “anywhere but at home” on Grathside Farm.

Then we got the tale of the man who has made his ideal a paying business and his business an ideal.

A decade or so ago, D. H. Bendick, a homestead farmer, living on his own hundred-and-sixty-acre steading of lovely Alberta treed land, which his father—one of the pioneers of Manitoba — had settled thirty years ago, when returning from his day’s work in the fields came on the nest of a wild duck. As a boy David had been a passionate lover of wild creatures and he had grown into the same kind of a man. Finding the eggs gave him pleasure but it made him thoughtful, too. He wondered whether, if he took the eggs home, they would hatch out under a hen, and if so what would be the result. He had an impulse to try, so he took the eggs back to his simple farmhouse and put them under a barnyard hen, in the near-by yard.

After a while there were ten speckled balls of buff running after their undisturbed mother, who seemed not to notice the extraordinary nature of her brood. In all of which the big, thoughtful Bendick was deeply interested; but at that time he had not the least suspicion that the experiment he had made was to revolutionize his life, to give him a broader field of activity, to enlarge his home to its present comfortable dimensions, to enrich his mind and to turn pleasure into profit. He had no vision that he would be brought into contact with many far parts of the earth, that Grathside Farm would become probably the most unique wild game sanctuary in Canada, or that his life would thenceforth touch the lives of breeders and fanciers of game birds in far and foreign lands. Yet all this has come to pass.

The first ducklings reached maturity on little runways of water near the house, fed by natural springs on the farm, and reached it without a mishap. Indeed, they even induced some of their wild brethren to join them, so that in a few months-there was much natural increase and before long the then small pond was covered perpetually with ducks. Then, in some mysterious manner word seemed to be broadcast among the wild things of the air that there was peace and plenty at Grathside Farm.

The Canada goose, so seldom to be seen except in migratory flight or on the great inland seas, of the far north where it breeds, soon discovered here a haven, and here large flocks of this intelligent bird now rest and feed in their flights to north or south.

Prairie chicken, many varieties of the Hutchins goose, pheasants, mallards, teal and all the indigenous birds of Alberta soon learned the same lesson. So that today, with the protection afforded, through co-operation with the provincial game warden, with the neighbors and by general consent, it is thought that every species of western game bird is represented in the teeming population of the Bendick sanctuary.

Making a Hobby Pay

BUT how to support all these trusting and hungry families? Mr. Bendick was a poor man who had to earn a living for his own family. The maintenance of a game sanctuary is an expensive business. What then was to be done?

Mr. Bendick comes of sturdy, thrifty, slow-moving but thoughtful Alsace-Lorraine stock. He pondered long but finally had an inspiration. Why not make his hobby into an industry which would pay for itself? He got books and read about game. He learned through these and enquiries that there was a steady demand in many quarters for wild game birds. He was faced with the alternative of giving up his farming operations or his birds, so he gave up general farming, and started out to make his birds pay for not only their keep, but for his own.

He has succeeded. Today he is exporting his products to many parts of the United States, to Britain, Australia, Japan, Honolulu, and Europe. He has extended his stock to include all Canadian game birds and many foreign importations, so that on the lakes, ponds, waterways and in the sedges of Grathside may be now found no less than fifty distinct varieties.

You may not be clever enough to recognize them all when you see them but to the knowing eye these include Chinese white, Blue, Indian bar head, Brown, Egyptian, and African geese, Hungarian partridges from Czechoslovakia, White Call, Black Cayuga, Widgeons, Black Muscovy, Golden Eye and Gadwall ducks, Golden, Silver and Chinese Ringtailed pheasants, all of which disport themselves as though quite at home among the Barnacle geese from Greenland, the dusky mallards from eastern Canada, or the native birds of Alberta.

Then too from a few birds of the almost extinct Canada quail, many more have been produced to add to the California and other varieties which abound at Grathside, wild turkeys, wood ducks—

another very rare bird—black swans, peacocks, doves, and dozens of other game or ornamental birds, unknown on this continent except in zoos, have been brought by Bendick from the four corners of the earth to see how many of them could be acclimatized and induced to breed in Canada.

For such an experiment no better location could be found, as the amazing success of the enterprise has shown. From two flowing wells supplying the farm, additional waterways, ponds and lakes were filled; their sides were planted with reeds or willow shrubs which are now alive with game birds, especially grouse, and the landscape has been made beautiful as well as useful.

From the beginning the commercialization has proved a great success. Soon Mr. Bendick was devoting more and more time to his feathered flocks, and soon the demand for his stock had increased to such an extent that he was obliged to give the work his entire time. Today it takes the entire time of himself and brother to conduct the necessary operations. Generally, Mr. Bendick says, it has been found necessary to feed the youhg birds for only a short period after birth, as most of them at maturity do all of their own rustling. In winter, however, shelter must be provided for many of the imported varieties and weaker birds. Birds on the farm seldom show any inclination to leave. Nor do they practice —exotics or not—birth control, for they have increased so prolifically that no difficulty has been experienced in filling all the orders which soon began, and have continued, to pour in.

Hunting clubs in the eastern and western States, as well as large properties are continually in the market for wild game birds, especially . good breeding

stock, for which they pay high prices. The product of the Grathside Farm is now going to many countries, Not long ago, Mr. Bendick returned from California after personally superintending the shipment of a large consignment to that state. During the past few years other consignments have gone to England and to the other parts of Europe as well as to Australia, and it speaks volumes for the success with which this lover of birds has bred game fowl that in many instances—as for example, Japan—he is shipping back birds of the foundation stocks received from other countries.

It has, of course, taken years to bring the farm and its stock to their present state of prosperity, but few insurmountable obstacles have been met. One of these, however, lies in the fighting proclivities of some breeds of game birds.

“The Egyptian goose is a terrific fighter,” said Mr. Bendick. “He will fight to the death. And we had to learn by hard experience that he cannot be trusted in anything but captivity. The first pair we received were put with the other birds, but they worked havoc among the swans and the Canada geese, several of which were killed. So we have to keep them in enclosures by themselves, as we do some of the other imported stocks.”

Experiments in Domestication

BUT generally speaking the Bendick experiments have proved that nearly all game birds respond to domestication in the happiest manner. The Canada geese on the Grathside ponds are as tame as the domestic geese, and although wild ducks are not quite so amenable, remaining shy and retiring in their habits, yet no difficulties have been encountered in their care or breeding on the farm.

Pheasants have been as easy to raise as chickens; wild turkeys from Kentucky do as well as on their native heath, completely outclassing our native variety, and many of the imported birds from tropical or much warmer climates have exhibited a remarkable adaptability.

In fact, it has been found, Mr. Bendick avers, that wild birds arrive at a sturdier maturity and reproduce more rapidly than they do in their native habitat. Wild ducks and geese, for instance, which ordinarily lay from five to eight eggs per season, will lay a second time if the first setting is taken away to be given to a barnyard stepmother, and will bring up their second family quite successfully.

So the venture has succeeded, but the success does not end with the commercial aspects. The work has been valuable to province and country. So far from depleting Alberta’s game preserves the Bendick sanctuary has helped to keep them supplied. Of the Hungarian partridge, which has proved very prolific at the Farm, many have been released in government game preserves, where they are doing well. Some years ago, too, Mr. Bendick also liberated some seventy Ringneck pheasants to test for the Provincial Government their adaptability to the Alberta climate. These have survived and are increasing slowly, although at Grathside during the very cold weather all birds from warmer climates are specially protected.

But perhaps the greatest contribution to the province, which prides itself on the efficacy of its Game Laws, is the fact that the Bendick experiments have tended to conserve the indigenous varieties of game birds, and have educated the whole neighborhood—one of a most cosmopolitan character—to the beauties and values of such conservation.