University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Page View

Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
(1903)

[Plate XXIX. The passenger pigeon. (Ectopistes migratorius.) cont.],   pp. 33-36


Page 33


PASSENGER PIGEON.
Now this sounds fabulous, but we will not dispute its truth, al-
though it is not in accordance with our observations. We have in our
rambles through the United States frequently met even with very
large flocks, but they certainly did not reach to one-quarter the
number mentioned by Audubon. Several roosts were visited at
different places, but they fell considerably short of the above ac-
count, although persons with whom we conversed at these roosts
fully corroborated Audubon. The immense numbers of Wild
Pigeons that flew over my head toward the roost would appear al-
most incredible to those who have never observed it. As regards
the rapidity of the flight of the Passenger Pigeons, we relate an
incident that occurred in the spring of i849, in New York city.
About two dozen Wild Pigeons, who had their crops filled with rice,
were shot by me, and they certainly had only early that morning
fed in the rice-fields of Carolina. It was about Io :30 A. m. when
they were shot, but they appeared tired, and did not show the&r
usual shyness.
Dr. Geo. W. Hill, of Ashland, Ohio, in one of his contribu-
tions, "Recollections of Pioneer Life," to the Cincinnati Com-
mercial, relates the following incident about the Wild Pigeon, the
particulars for which were furnished by William A. Adams, Esq.:
" Several species of birds, formerly very numerous in this State,
are becoming less abundant. The Wild Pigeon, once seen in count-
less millions, is not so numerous as during the period of the beech-
nuts. Mr. Adams, in i8o6, witnessed at Marietta, Ohio, a flight
of pigeons so remarkable that the school children were dismissed
to see the wonderful sight. They were actually so numerous as to
obscure the light of the sun like a cloud. This continued for some
time. The sand-bar at the foot of the island above Marietta con-
tained about fifty acres of land. Far above the island the birds
checked their flight, and began to descend upon .he bar in a dense
mass. The descent, at a distance, appeared like an inverted cone,
or an enormous water-spout, as an old sailor describes it. The
birds apparently came down to the bar for water and sand. They
crowded the shore, and dipped their beaks into the water, and took
to the air again, and continued their flight. The whole town
turned out to witness the novel spectacle, and many persons
hastened to the sand-bar, and large numbers of the birds were
killed with sticks. Their crops were supplied with small gravel
and sand.   Their roosts were equally strange.  They came
together from all quarters in such numbers that it was dangerous
for man or animal to venture beneath their roost. The noise of
their wings, their fluttering, and the cracking of timber beneath
their weight, kept up a constant roar, not unlike the sound of
battle at a distance. There is a tract of land in the northwest part
of Muskingum county, formerly called ' Dennison's Plains,' rich
and rolling, but destitute of timber. There was full proof that the
timber on that land had once been a pigeon-roost, and had been
broken down and destroyed by the weight of the pigeons. This
was confirmed by some Indians who were on the land about I813.
The nestings of these birds were equally strange and curious.
The nests were fixed on the top of horizontal limbs, and some-
times from fifty to one hundred were placed thereon. Here the
young were hatched. When partially grown, their weight would
frequently crush the limb, and vast numbers of squabs would fall
down to become the prey of hawks, owls, foxes, men, and boys.
The young squabs were fat, and esteemed a luxury for the table."
The following additional account of this remarkable bird is taken
firDm the w ,rk entitled "Wilson's American Ornithology," Thomas
M. Brewer, editor:
"The Wild Pigeon of the United States inhabits a wide ar4
extensive region of North America, on the side of the great Stony
Mountains, beyond which, to the westward, I have not heard of
their being seen. According to Mr. Hutchins, they abound in the
country round Hudson's Bay, where they usually remain as late
as December, feeding, when the ground is covered with snow, on
the buds of the juniper. They spread over the whole of Canada;
were seen by Captain Lewis and his party near the Great Falls of
the Missouri, upward of 2,500 miles from its mouth, reckoning
the meanderings of the river; were also met with in the interior of
Louisiana by Colonel Pike, and extend their range as far south
as the Gulf of Mexico, occasionally visiting or breeding in almost
every quarter of the United States.
" But the most remarkable characteristic of these birds is their
associating together, both in their migrations and also during the
period of incubation, in such prodigious numbers as almost to
surpass belief, and which has no parallel among any other of the
feathered tribes on the face of the earth with which naturalists are
acquainted. These migrations appear to be undertaken rather in
quest of food than merely to avoid the cold of the climate, since
we find them lingering in the northern regions, around Hudson's
Bay, so late as December, and since their appearance is so casual
and irregular, sometimes not visiting certain districts for several
years in any considerable numbers, while at other times they are
innumerable. I have witnessed these migrations in the Genesee
country, often in Pennsylvania, and also in various parts of Vir-
ginia, with amazement; but all I had then seen of them were mere
straggling parties when compared with the congregated millions
which I have since beheld in our Western forests, in the States of
Ohio, Kentucky, and the Indian Territory. These fertile and
extensive regions abound with the nutritious beech-nut, which
constitutes the chief food of the Wild Pigeon. In seasons when
these nuts are abundant, corresponding multitudes of pigeons may
be confidently expected. It sometimes happens that, having con-
sumed the whole produce of the beech-trees in an extensive dis-
trict, they discover another at the distance perhaps of sixty or eighty
miles, to which they regularly repair every morning, and return
as regularly in the course of the day, or in the evening, to their
place of general rendezvous, or, as it is usually called, the roosting-
place. These roosting-places are always in the woods, and some-
times occupy a large extent of forest. When they have frequented
one of these places for some time, the appearance it exhibits is
surprising. The ground is covered to the depth of several inches
with their dung; all the tender grass and underwood destroyed;
the surface strewed with large limbs of trees, broken down by the
weight of the birds clustering one above another; and the trees
themselves, for thousands of acres, killed as completely as if
girdled with an ax.  The marks of this desolation remain for
many years on the spot; and numerous places could be pointed
out where, for several years after, scarcely a single vegetable
made its appearance.
" When these roosts are discovered, the inhabitants, from con-
siderable distances, visit them in the night with guns, clubs, long
poles, pots of sulphur, and various other engines of destruction.
In a few hours they fill many sacks, and load their horses with
them. By the Indians, a pigeon-roost, or breeding-place, is con-
sidered an important source of national profit and dependence for
that season, and all their active ingenuity is exercised on the
occasion. The breeding-place differs from the former in its greater
extent. In the Western countries above mentioned, these are gen-
erally in beech-woods, and often extend, in nearly a straight line,
across the country for a great way. Not far from Shelbyville, in
the State of Kentucky, about five years ago, there was one of these
breeding-places, which stretched through the woods in nearly a
north and south direction. It was several miles in breadth, and was
said to be upward of forty miles in extent. In this tract, almost
every tree was furnished wit h nests, wherever the branches could
accommodate them. The Pigeons made their first appearance
there about the ioth of April, and left it altogether, with their
young, before the 25th of May.
" As soon as the young were fully grown, and before they left
the nests, numerous parties of the inhabitants, from all parts of the
adjacent country, came with wagons, axes, beds, cooking-utensils,
many of them accompanied by the greater part of their families,
and encamped for several days at this immense nursery. Several
of them informed me that the noise in the woods was so great as


Go up to Top of Page