Saturday, August 27, 2011

Barrels of Birds from Petoskey

I have seen many references to Passenger Pigeons in newspapers from the 19th century, so I was used to reading about flocks of birds that could 'blacken the skies for three days at a time' (can you imagine the mess).  I was not, however, prepared for the article I found in the Pioneer Magnet (Big Rapids, Mecosta County, Michigan) dated Thursday, April 4, 1878 and can be found on Page 5 column 2.
PIGEONS - Wild pigeons have a roost about twelve or fourteen miles east of Petoskey, this spring, and the woods of that region swarm with millions on millions of them.  One would think from their numbers that all the pigeons of North America are there congregated.  A large number of men are catching them, and from one to six tons of birds are shipped from Petoskey every day.  The train south last Monday brought fifty nine barrels.  Hunters get about forty cents a dozen for them delivered in Petoskey. 
The image on the right is of a Passenger Pigeon from Wikipedia.  It has been said that Passenger Pigeons were at one time the most numerous bird species in the world.  It was estimated that the species population outnumbered all other bird species populations combined in North America!

Passenger Pigeons nested in colonies, some of which have been estimated to exceed a billion birds.  So many birds would land on branches of trees that the branch would actually break from the weight.  The fact that Passenger Pigeons nested in colonies explains the vast population and also explains why the species was hunted to extinction.

It wasn't about finding the birds but rather how could you kill as many birds as you can in the shortest amount of time.  The only thing that the Pioneer Magnet leaves out is how the birds were dispatched.  Some bird catchers would use alcohol soaked grain which the birds ingested and caused them to fall out of the trees in a stupor.  The bird catchers would then dispatch the birds by crushing their heads between their forefinger and thumb.  Others would use sulfur smoke or decoys to make the birds fly into nets.

Anyway you look at it, the wholesale slaughter of the Passenger Pigeon lead to the decline of the species.  By 1878, when this article was written, the species was in a rapid decline which caused a downward spiral with the extinction of the species occurring early in the 20th century.  I wonder how many of my ancestors saw these enormous flocks in the sky and also witnessed the decline and extinction of the species?  I wonder if they even gave it a second thought...             

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