Page:The Passenger Pigeon - Mershon.djvu/70

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The Passenger Pigeon

have lasted a minute, when the space around us was suddenly cleared, the birds glancing upward among the branches of the trees, disappearing among the foliage. All this was the effect produced by the return of the female birds, which had been off at a distance, some twenty miles at least, to feed on beechnuts, and which now assumed the places of the males on the nests; the latter taking a flight to get their meal in their turn.

"I have since had the curiosity to make a sort of an estimate of the number of the birds that must have come in upon the roost, in that, to us, memorable moment. Such a calculation, as a matter of course, must be very vague, though one may get certain principles by estimating the size of a flock by the known rapidity of the flight, and other similar means; and I remember that Frank Malbone and myself supposed that a million of birds must have come in on that return, and as many departed! As the pigeon is a very voracious bird, the question is apt to present itself, where food is obtained for so many mouths; but, when we remember the vast extent of the American forests, this difficulty is at once met. Admitting that the colony we visited contained many millions of birds, and, counting old and young, I have no doubt it did, there was probably a fruit-bearing tree for each, within an hour's flight from that very spot!

"Such is the scale on which Nature labors in the wilderness! I have seen insects fluttering in the air at