Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Indian chief tells of flock of passenger pigeons observed in 1850.
When I shoot my rifle clear,
to pigeons in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to pork and beans,
And live on good pot pies".
"About the middle of May, 1850, while in the fur trade, I was
camping on the head waters of the Manistee River in Michigan. One morning on leaving my wig-wam, I was startled by hearing a gurgling, rumbling sound, as though an army of horses laden with sleigh bells was advancing through the deep forests towards me.
As I listened more intently, I concluded that, instead of the
tramping of horses, it was distant thunder; and yet the morning was clear,
calm and beautiful. Nearer and nearer came the strange commingling of sleigh bells, mixed with the rumbling of an approaching storm. While I gazed in wonder and astonishment, I beheld moving toward me in an unbroken front millions of pigeons, the first I had seen that season. They passed like a cloud through the branches of the high trees, through the underbrush and over the ground, apparently overturning every leaf.
"Statue-like I stood, half-concealed by the cedar boughs. They
fluttered all about me, lighting on my head and shoulders; gently I caught
two in my hands and carefully concealed them under my blanket.
"I now began to realize they were mating, preparatory to nesting.
It was an event which I had long hoped to witness; so I sat down and
carefully watched their movements, amidst the greatest tumult. I tried to
understand their strange language, and why they all chatted in concert. In
the course of the day the great on moving mass passed by me, but the trees
were still filled with them sitting in pairs in convenient crotches of the
limbs, now and then gently fluttering their half-spread wings and uttering to their mates those strange bell-like wooing notes which I had mistaken for the ringing of bells in the distance.
" On the third day, this chattering ceased and all were busy
carrying sticks with which they were building in the same crotches of the
limbs they had occupied in pairs the day before. On the morning of the
fourth day their nests were finished and eggs laid. The hen birds occupied
the nests in the morning, while the male birds went out into the surrounding country to feed, returning about 10 o'clock, taking the nests, while the hens went out to feed, returning about 3 o'clock.
"Again, changing nests, the male birds went out the second time to
feed, returning at sundown. The same routine was pursued each day until the young ones were hatched and nearly half-grown, at which time all the parent birds left the brooding grounds about daylight. On the morning of the eleventh day after the eggs were laid, I found the nesting grounds strewn with egg shells, convincing me that the young were hatched. In 13 days more the parent birds left their young to shift for themselves, flying to the east about sixty miles, when they again nested. The female lays but one egg during the same nesting.
"Both sexes secrete in their crops milk or curd with which they
feed their young until they are fit to fly, when they stuff them with mast
and such other raw material as they themselves eat until their crops exceed
their bodies in size, giving them the appearance of two birds with one head.
Within two days after the stuffing they become a mass of fat- a 'squab'. At
this period, the parent bird drives them from the nests to take care of
themselves, while they fly off within a day or two, sometimes hundreds of
miles, and nest again.
"It has been well-established that these birds look after and take
care of all orphaned squabs whose parents have been killed or are missing.
These birds are long-lived, having been known to live 25 years, caged."