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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America

Plate XXIX. The passenger pigeon. (Ectopistes migratorius.),   p. 32

Page 32

82                            PASSENGER PIGEON.
He seems to sing for his own amusement. As soon as he suspects
that he is being observed, he will stop altogether or utter a call re-
sembling somewhat the words " dihu, dui, dui, dui, dui, dui, dui,
dui, dui." When alarmed, he will utter a short " zip" or "
The Cardinal Grosbeak is easily kept in cages, and is satisfied
with the simplest kinds of grain. He is a hardy bird, and may be
brought to breeding in captivity by giving him more freedom in a
large room. It will never do to place him in a room or cage with
other birds, as it appears impossible for him to keep peace with
The Passenger Pigeon. (Eclotistes migratorius.)
The Passenger Pigeon, or, as it is commonly called, the " Wild
Pigeon," are the gypsies among birds. They are everywhere and
nowhere. From Hudson's Bay down to the Gulf of Mexico, and
from the Rocky Mountains to the eastern coast, and in all the
States of North America, is found the Passenger Pigeon-at no time
in equal numbers, generally more in number in the Eastern and
Middle than in the Northern and Southern States.
Audubon and, before him, Wilson relate the most wonderful
stories concerning the numbers of these Pigeons during their
wanderings. We quote from Audubon as follows:
"' Their great power of flight enables them to survey and pass
over an astonishing extent of country in a very short time. Thus,
Pigeons have been killed in the neighborhood of New York with
their crops full of rice, which they must have collected in the fields
of Georgia and Carolina; these districts being the nearest in which
they could possibly have procured a supply of food As their power
of digestion is so great, that they will decompose food entirely in
twelve hours, they must, in this case, have traveled between three
and four hundred miles in six hours, which shows their speed to be,
at an average, about one mile in a minute. A velocity such as this,
would enable one of these birds, were it so inclined, to visit the
European continent in less than three days."
" In the autumn of I8I3, I left my house at Henderson, on the
banks of the Ohio, on my way to Louisville. In passing over the
barrens, a few miles beyond Hardinsburgh, I observed the Pigeons
flying from northeast to southwest in greater numbers than I thought
I had ever seen them before. I traveled on, and still met more
the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons.
The light of the noonday was obscured as by an eclipse. The
dung fell in spots not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the con-
tinued buzz of the wings had a tendency to lull my senses to re-
" Before sunset I reached Louisville, distant from Hardinsburgh
fifty-five miles. The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished
numbers, and continued to do so for three days in succession. The
people were all in arms. The banks of the Ohio were crowded
with men and boys, incessantly shooting at the pilgrims, which
there flew lower as they passed the river. Multitudes were thus
destroyed. For a week or more, the population fed on no other
flesh than that of Pigeons. The atmosphere was, during this time,
strongly impregnated with the peculiar odor which emanates
from the species."
In estimating the number of these mighty flocks, and the
food consumed by them daily, he adds: "1 Let us take a
column of one mile in breadth, which is- far below the average
size, and suppose it passing over us at the rate of one mile per
minute. This will give us a parallelogram of i8o miles by one, cov-
ering i8o square miles; and allowing two Pigeons to the square
yard, we have one billion one hundred and fifteen millions one
hundred and thirty-six thousand Pigeons in one flock; and as
every Pigeon consumes daily fully half a pint, the quantity re-
quired to feed such a flock, must be eight millions seven hundred
and twelve thousand bushels per day."
" Let us now, kind reader, inspect their place of nightly rendez-
vous: It was, as is always the case, in a portion of the forest
where the trees were of great magnitude, and where there was
little underwood. I rode through it upward of forty miles, and,
crossing it at different parts, found its average breadth to be rather
more than three miles. Few Pigeons were to be seen before sunset;
but a great number of persons, with horses and wagons, guns and
ammunition, had already established encampments on the borders.
Two farmers from the vicinity of Russellsville, distant more than a
hundred miles, had driven upward of three hundred hogs, to be
fattened on the Pigeons which were to be slaughtered. Here and
there, the people employed in plucking and salting what had al-
ready been procured, were seen sitting in the midst of large piles
of these birds. The dung lay several inches deep, covering the
whole extent of the roosting-place, like a bed of snow. Many
trees, two feet in diameter, I observed were broken off at no great
distance from the ground; and the branches of many of the largest
and tallest had given way as if the forest had been swept by a
tornado. Everything proved to me that the number of birds re-
sorting to this part of the forest, must be immense beyond concep-
tion. As the period of their arrival approached, their foes anxiously
prepared to seize them. Some were furnished with iron pots con-
taining sulphur, others with torches of pine-knots, many with
poles, and the rest with guns. The sun was lost to our view.
yet not a Pigeon had arrived. Everything was ready, and all
eyes were gazing on the clear sky, which appeared in glimpses
amidst the tall trees. Suddenly there burst forth a general cry of
' Here they come 1' The noise which they made, though yet dis-
tant, reminded me of a hard gale at sea, passing through the rig-
ging of a close-reefed vessel. As the birds arrived and passed
over me, I felt a current of air that surprised me. Thousands
were soon knocked down by polemen. The current of birds, how-
ever, still kept increasing. The fires were lighted, and a most
magnificent, as well as a wonderful and terrifying sight, presented
itself. The Pigeons coming in by thousands alighted everywhere,
one above another, until solid masses, as large as hogsheads, were
formed on every tree, in all directions. Here and there the perches
gave way under the weight with a crash, and falling to the ground,
destroyed hundreds of the birds beneath, forcing down the dense
groups with which every stick was loaded. It was a scene of up-
roar and confusion. I found it quite useless to speak, or even to
shout, to those persons who were nearest me. The reports, even,
of the nearest guns were seldom heard; and I knew of the firing
only by seeing the shooters reloading. No one dared venture within
the line of devastation; the hogs had been penned up in due time,
the picking up of the dead and wounded birds being left for the
next morning's employment. The Pigeons were constantly com-
ing, and it was past midnight before I perceived a decrease in the
number of those that arrived. The uproar continued, however,
the whole night; and as I was anxious to know to what distance
the sound reached, I sent off a man, accustomed to preambulate
the forest, who, returning two hours afterward, informed me he had
heard it distinctly when three miles from the spot. Toward the
approach of day, the noise rather subsided; but long ere objects
were at all distinguishable, the Pigeons began to move off in a
direction quite different from that in which they had arrived the
evening before; and at sunrise, all that were able to fly had dis-
appeared. The howlings of the wolves now reached our ears; and
the foxes, lynxes, cougars,bears, raccoons, opossums, and polecats
were seen sneaking off from the spot, whilst Eagles and Hawks
of different species, accompanied by a crowd of Vultures, came to
supplant them, and enjoy their share of the spoil. It was then that
the authors of all this devastation began their entry among the dead,
the dying, and the mangled. The Pigeons were picked up and
piled in heaps, until each had as many ash he could possibly dis-
pose of, when the hogs were let loose to feed on the remainder."

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