The Passenger Pigeon/Chapter XII

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The Last of the Pigeons

From "The Auk," July, 1897, under the title "Additional Records of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius.)"

Most of the notes on the Passenger Pigeon recorded in the past year have referred to single birds or pairs. It is with much pleasure that I now call attention to a flock of some fifty, observed in southern Missouri. I am not only greatly indebted to Mr. Chas. H. Holden, jr., for this interesting information, but for the present of a beautiful pair which he sent me in the flesh, he having shot them as they flew rapidly overhead. Mr. Holden was, at the time (December 17, 1896), hunting quail in Attie, Oregon County, Mo. The residents of this hamlet had not seen any pigeons there before in some years.

Simon Pokagon, Chief of the remaining Pottawattamie tribe, and probably the best posted man on the wild pigeon in Michigan, writes me under date of October 16, 1896: "I am creditably informed that there was a small nesting of pigeons last spring not far from the headwaters of the Au Sable River in Michigan." Mr. Chase S. Osborn, State Game and Fish Warden of Michigan, under date, Sault Ste. Marie, March 2, 1897, writes: "Passenger Pigeons are now very rare indeed in Michigan, but some have been seen in the eastern parts of Chippewa County, in the upper peninsula, every year. As many as a dozen or more were seen in this section in one flock last year, and I have reason to believe that they breed here in a small way. One came into this city last summer and attracted a great deal of attention by flying and circling through the air with the tame pigeons. I have a bill in the Legislature of Michigan, closing the season for killing wild pigeons for ten years."

Ruthven Deane,

Chicago, Ill.

From "The Auk," April, 1898, Vol. 15, Page 184, under the title, "The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) in Wisconsin and Nebraska."

Our records of this species during the past few years have referred in most instances, to very small flocks and generally to pairs or individuals. In The Auk for July, 1897, I recorded a flock of some fifty pigeons from southern Missouri, but such a number has been very unusual. It is now very gratifying to be able to record still larger numbers and I am indebted to Mr. A. Fugleberg of Oshkosh, Wis., for the following letter of information, under date of September 1, 1897: "I live on the west shore of Lake Winnebago, Wis. About 6 o'clock on the morning of August 14, 1897, I saw a flock of wild pigeons flying over the bay from Fisherman's Point to Stony Beach, and I assure you it reminded me of old times, from 1855 to 1880, when pigeons were plentiful every day. So I dropped my work and stood watching them. This flock was followed by six more flocks, each containing about thirty-five to eighty pigeons, except the last, which only contained seven. All these flocks passed over within half an hour. One flock of some fifty birds flew within gunshot of me, the others all the way from one hundred to three hundred yards from where I stood." Mr. Fugleberg is an old hunter and has had much experience with the wild pigeon. In a later letter dated September 4, 1897, he writes: "On Sept. 2, 1897, I was hunting prairie chickens near Lake Butte des Morts, Wis., where I met a friend who told me that a few days previous he had seen a flock of some twenty-five wild pigeons and that they were the first he had seen for years." This would appear as though these birds were instinctively working back to their old haunts, as the Winnebago region was once a favorite locality. We hope that Wisconsin will follow Michigan in making a close season on wild pigeons for ten years, and thus give them a chance to multiply, and, perhaps, regain, in a measure, their former abundance.

In Forest and Stream of Sept. 25, 1897, appeared a short notice of "Wild Pigeons in Nebraska," by "W. F. R." Through the kindness of the editor he placed me in correspondence with the observer, W. F. Rightmire, to whom I am indebted for the following details given in his letter of Nov. 5, 1897: "I was driving along the highway north of Cook, Johnson County, Neb., on August 17, 1897. I came to the timber skirting the head stream of the Nemaha River, a tract of some forty acres of woodland lying along the course of the stream, upon both banks of the same, and there feeding on the ground or perched upon the trees were the Passenger Pigeons I wrote the note about. The flock contained seventy-five to one hundred birds. I did not frighten them, but as I drove along the road the feeding birds flew up and joined the others, and as soon as I had passed by they returned to the ground and continued feeding. While I revisited the same locality, I failed to find the pigeons. I am a native of Tompkins County, N. Y., and have often killed wild pigeons in their flights while a boy on the farm, helped to net them, and have hunted them in Pennsylvania, so that I readily knew the birds in question the moment I saw them." I will here take occasion to state that in my record of the Missouri flock (Auk, July, 1897, p. 316) the date on which they were seen (Dec. 17, 1896) was, through error, omitted.

Ruthven Deane,

Chicago, Ill.

From "The Auk," January, 1896, under the title, "Additional Records of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) in Wisconsin and Illinois."

I am indebted to my friend, Mr. John L. Stockton, of Highland Park, Ill., for information regarding the occurrence of this pigeon in Wisconsin. While trout fishing on the Little Oconto River in the Reservation of the Menominee Indians, Mr. Stockton saw, early in June, 1895, a flock of some ten pigeons for several consecutive days near his camp. They were first seen while alighting near the bank of the river, where they had evidently come to drink. I am very glad to say that they were not molested.

Mr. John F. Ferry of Lake Forest, Ill., has kindly notified me of the capture of a young female pigeon which was killed in that town on August 7, 1895. The bird was brought to him by a boy who had shot it with a rifle ball, and although in a mutilated condition he preserved it for his collection.

I have recently received a letter from Dr. H. V. Ogden, Milwaukee, Wis., informing me of the capture of a young female pigeon which was shot by Dr. Ernest Copeland on the 1st of October, 1895. These gentlemen were camping at the time in the northeast corner of Delta County, Mich. (Northern Peninsula), in the large hardwood forest that runs through that part of the State. They saw no other of the species.

Ruthven Deane, Chicago, Ill.

From "The Auk," July, 1895, under the title, "Additional Records of the Passenger Pigeon in Illinois and Indiana."

The occurrence of the wild pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) in this section of the country, and, in fact, throughout the West generally, is becoming rarer every year, and such observations and data as come to our notice should be of sufficient interest to record.

I have, in the past few months, made inquiry of a great many sportsmen who are constantly in the field and in widely distributed localities, regarding any observations on the wild pigeon, and but few of them have seen a specimen in the past eight or ten years. N. W. Judy & Co., of St. Louis, Mo., dealers in poultry, and the largest receivers of game in that section, wrote as follows: "We have had no wild pigeons for two seasons; the last we received were from Siloam Springs, Ark. We have lost all track of them, and our netters are lying idle."

I have made frequent inquiry among the principal game dealers in Chicago and cannot learn of a single specimen that has been received in our markets in several years. I am indebted to the following gentlemen for notes and observations regarding this species, which cover a period of eight years. I have various other records of the occurrence of the pigeon in Illinois and Indiana, but do not consider them sufficiently authentic to record, as to the casual observer this species and the Carolina dove are often confounded.

A fine male pigeon was killed by my brother, Mr. Chas. E. Deane, April 18, 1887, while shooting snipe on the meadows near English Lake, Ind. The bird was alone and flew directly over him. I have the specimen now in my collection.

In September, 1888, while teal shooting on Yellow River, Stark County, Ind., I saw a pigeon fly up the river and alight a short distance off. I secured the bird which proved to be a young female.

On Sept. 17, 1887, Mr. John F. Hazen and his daughter Grace, of Cincinnati, Ohio, while boating on the Kankakee River near English Lake, Ind., observed a small flock of pigeons feeding in a little oak grove bordering the river. They reported the birds as quite tame and succeeded in shooting eight specimens.

Mr. Frank M. Woodruff, Assistant Curator, Chicago Academy of Sciences, informs me that on Dec. 10, 1890, he received four Passenger Pigeons in the flesh, from Waukegan, Ill., at which locality they were said to have been shot. Three of the birds were males and one was a female. One pair he disposed of, the other two I have recently seen in his collection. In the fall of 1891, Mr. Woodruff also shot a pair at Lake Forest, Ill., which he mounted and placed in the collection of the Cook County Normal School, Englewood, Ill.

In the spring of 1893, Mr. C. B. Brown, of Chicago, Ill., collected a nest of the wild pigeon containing two eggs at English Lake, Ind., and secured both parent birds. Mr. Brown describes the nest as being placed on the horizontal branch of a burr oak about ten feet from the trunk and from forty to fifty feet from the ground. He did not preserve the birds, but the eggs are still in his collection. The locality where this nest was found was a short distance from where the Hazens found their birds six years before.

Mr. John F. Ferry informs me that three pigeons were seen near the Des Plaines River in Lake County, Ill., in September, 1893. One of these was shot by Mr. F. C. Farwell.

In an article which appeared in the Chicago Tribune Nov. 25, 1894, entitled "Last of His Race," Mr. E. B. Clark related his experience in observing a fine male wild pigeon in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Ill., in April, 1893. I quote from the article: "He was perched on the limb of a soft maple and was facing the rising sun. I have never seen in any cabinet a more perfect specimen. The tree upon which he was resting was at the southeast corner of the park. There were no trees between him and the lake to break from his breast the fullness of the glory of the rising sun. The pigeon allowed me to approach within twenty yards of his resting place and I watched him through a powerful glass that permitted as minute an examination as if he were in my hand. I was more than astonished to find here, close to the pavements of a great city, the representative of a race which always loved the wild woods, and, which I thought had passed away from Illinois forever."

Mr. R. W. Stafford of Chicago, Ill., who has shot hundreds of pigeons in former years within the present city limits of Chicago, informs me that in the latter part of September, 1894, while shooting at Marengo, Ill., he saw a flock of six flying swiftly over and apparently alight in a small grove some distance off.

The above records will show that while in this section of the country large flocks of Passenger Pigeons are a thing of the past, yet they are still occasionally observed in small detachments or single birds.

A. B. Covert of Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote under date of Oct. 27, 1894: "Prior to the spring of 1881 the wild pigeon was everywhere a common bird of passage throughout the southern part of Michigan and nested commonly in the northern part. My home, in 1880, and for a few years after, was at Cadillac, Mich., and there was at that time a nesting place near Muskrat Lake in Missaukee County. Thousands of the birds were killed there. In the spring of 1881 the birds failed to make their appearance, and since then have been very rare. Nov. 23, 1892, I secured one male and two young females; these were killed in Scio, Washtenaw County, Oct. 9, 1893; one male near Ypsilanti, Mich., Sept. 27, 1894; one female killed at Honey Brook, Scio, Washtenaw County. There is also a female bird in this city that was killed in Livingston County in October, 1892."

In a bulletin of the Michigan Ornithological Club, Vol. II, No. 3-4, July to December, 1898, Mr. A. B. Covert, the club's president, tells of seeing a flock of about two hundred pigeons. On Oct. 1, 1898, in Washtenaw County, Mich., he watched a large number of them all day.

Mr. Stewart E. White writes from Ann Arbor under date of Feb. 9, 1894: "My notebooks are not here so I cannot give exact dates, but I can remember distinctly every specimen I ever saw. I observed one flock of about sixty in Kent County in the fall, the last of October or first of November, 1890. At Mackinac Island at various times in September of 1889 I saw parts of a large flock, of say two hundred. My field experience in the western part of Michigan has been quite extensive and thorough, but these two flocks are all I ever recorded."

F. M. Falconer of Hillsdale, Mich., on Dec. 3, 1904, writes to Mr. Warren as follows: "During the last week of March, 1892, one of the students here shot a nice male. There were two together, but only one was secured. That summer I saw a small flock feeding in some thick woods along the banks of a stream in which I was fishing, in Chautauqua County, N. Y. There were eight or ten birds at least, and perhaps many more, as they scattered along in spots."

Mr. T. E. Douglas of Grayling, Mich., reports that in the year 1900 he saw three Passenger Pigeons on the East Branch of Au Sable River, Michigan, and about five years previous to that date a flock of ten was seen around George's Lake, which is eight miles southwest of West Branch, Michigan.

I also have a record of one pigeon taken by Mr. John H. Sage, in Portland, Conn., in October, 1889.

In May, 1904, Hon. Chase S. Osborn wrote:

Dear Mr. Mershon: I haven't much information relating to the pigeons in this section of the country. In fact, the pigeon was practically gone from the north when I first visited the country in 1880. I remember seeing a flock of about three hundred in Florence County, Wis., which would probably be on a line fifty miles south of here, in 1883. In 1884 I saw a flock in that same section, in the woods northwest of Florence, of about fifty. In 1890 I saw six of these birds near the mouth of the Little Munoskong River in this county. This river empties into Munoskong Bay, about thirty miles southeast of here. In 1897 I saw a single wild pigeon, flying with the tame pigeons around this town. It was a remarkable sight and attracted the attention of many local bird lovers. There is no doubt that it was a pigeon, and it was absolutely alone as far as we could discover.

Upon inquiry here among old residents, I am told that there was quite a large roost on a beech ridge about forty miles west of here, which would be at a point north of the present station of Eckerman. I have been unable to learn just when this roosting place was discontinued, but as near as I can make out from comparing statements and records, it must have been in '78, '79, or '80.

I have heard of a large roosting place in northern Wisconsin which was used as late as 1874 by vast numbers of birds. It was located to the south and a little west of Lac Vieux Desert. At the head of the Pike River in Wisconsin, a point probably sixty-five miles south of here, and west into that State, the pigeons were seen in large numbers until 1872. As I understand it, in the early days they were very likely to frequent the same section year after year when not too much disturbed.

Mr. Newell A. Eddy of Bay City, Mich., under date of Aug. 7, 1905, wrote me as follows:

I find that I have but few notes regarding this species. On Sept. 13, 1880, I took a single bird near the city of Bangor, Maine. The sex was not determined. This was an unusual capture for the place and the time. A few years previous to that time, on a canoeing trip to the headwaters of the Penobscot River, I fell in with a small flock of a dozen or more in an old burnt-over swamp, but was unable to secure any of them.

I presume that you have an abundance of notes on the Passenger Pigeon in this section of the country at the time it was so abundant here, as such information is readily obtainable from any of the old inhabitants of this locality. I had a very interesting interview the other day with Mr. C. E. Jennison of this city, who was one of our earliest settlers, and he gave me a great deal of information about this bird in the earlier days of Bay City. He also stated, which was quite interesting, that six or seven years ago he saw a few birds at Thunder Bay Island, near Alpena. This appears to be his last record of this species.

The most interesting information I have was obtained from Mr. Birney Jennison, his son, who advised me a few days ago while we were on our way to Point Lookout, Saginaw Bay, that about the 15th of July, this year, he saw a pair of these birds in a swale at Point Lookout while roaming through the woods. He and I visited the same locality about two weeks after that, but saw nothing of them. Of course there is some likelihood that the birds Mr. Jennison saw may have been the common Carolina doves. Mr. Birney Jennison also had a great deal of experience with this bird in his younger days about Bay City, and there would appear to be no question as to his ability to accurately identify the bird."

From Mr. Neal Brown, Warsaw, Wis., May 20, 1904:

Mr. W. B. Mershon, Saginaw, Mich.

Dear Sir: — Your favor at hand with reference to the wild pigeon. It was, I think, three or four years ago that, in hunting with Mr. Emerson Hough near Babcock in this State in September, we killed an unmistakable wild pigeon. I saw a few pigeons in the woods in Forest County, in this State, about fifteen years ago. About seven years ago I saw three near Wausau and shot one of them. There was a pigeon roost for many years in Wood County, in this State, but it has long since disappeared.

When I was a boy in southern Wisconsin in the 60's and 70's, wild pigeons were so numerous as to almost darken the air. In the early 70's there was a small roost on Bark River, near Ft. Atkinson, in this State.

The wild pigeon had practically disappeared in southern Wisconsin as early as 1880, in fact, it was two or three years before that that I saw the last of them.

Charles W. Ward of Queens, L. I., New York, reports that in October, 1883, he saw a flock of at least one hundred Passenger Pigeons along the Manistee River in Township 26-5 and the following year about one dozen nested in a Spruce swamp near Orchard Lake on his old homestead. He often saw the nest and the birds. He remembers the time as being the season of the year when huckleberries were ripe, for he was berry-picking when he first observed them.

The writer of the following newspaper clipping of recent date is emphatically skeptical regarding the present-day existence of even an isolated pigeon:



Tawas, Mich., July 27. — John Sims, county game and fish warden, ridicules the idea of flocks of wild pigeons being found in Iosco County, as was reported in some of the State papers. He says: "There are no wild pigeons in Iosco County; nor have there been any here since April 1, 1880. There fell about six inches of snow on that day, then the weather cleared and the sun rose bright and clear, but it was but for a short time, as the air was clouded with pigeons going westward. That was the first time they had been here for a number of years, and, although it was Sunday, everyone who had a gun was shooting or trying to shoot, and there were lots of pigeons killed that day in nearly all the streets of Tawas. There were simply millions of them going westward, and those that were killed were picked up out of the snow. Since that day there have been no wild pigeons here. We have lots of mourning doves here, and the writer has probably seen these. There is a certain magazine that offers $50 for a pair of wild pigeons, and I think the sportsmen would add another $50 to it to have the wild pigeons with us again.

In the report of the Massachusetts commissioners on fisheries and game for the year ending December 31, 1903, is to be found the following:

The occurrence of the wild pigeon is a matter of public and scientific interest, and for this reason, and not because it is a game bird, reference to it is introduced here. Deputy Samuel Parker, who is perfectly familiar with the wild pigeon, makes mention of its appearance at Wakefield this year as follows: "In September a flock of wild pigeons, twenty-five or thirty in number, came over Crystal Lake." This notice of the presence of a species believed to be extinct is interesting and must be important to ornithologists.[1]

George King, guide and trapper, living in Otsego County, Michigan, told me in 1904 that four years before he had seen along Black River a flock of wild pigeons, a dozen or more birds. He said there is no mistake about it, because he was familiar with the wild pigeon early in life. These alighted in a tree near him. He said that in 1902, also, he heard the call of two wild pigeons, although he hunted for the birds and did not find them.

I believe that six wild pigeons were actually seen in
Page The Passenger Pigeon - Mershon djvu 188 - Comparative size of pigeon and dove.png


From photo furnished by Prof. W. B. Burrows, of the Michigan Agricultural College

the latter part of April of 1905 near Vanderbilt, Mich., by this George King. I have tested his honesty and truthfulness time and time again. He told me he was seated in the branches of an apple tree when he saw six wild pigeons alight in another tree near him. He kept perfectly still and watched their movements for about thirty minutes. They flew from the old tree in which they had alighted, underneath a beech tree and began feeding on beech nuts from the ground. He says he heard them call and they made the same old crowing call of the wild pigeon. He was close to them; he is perfectly familiar with the dove and knows that these six were Passenger Pigeons. King has for many years lived in the section that formerly was the great pigeon nesting and feeding ground of northern Michigan.

Michigan Agricultural College,

July 14, '05.

Dear Sir:—I have been away for the past three weeks and find your letter of June 27 here on my return. The photographs sent you were those of the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina dove, the one of the two birds being intended to show relative size and appearance. It was taken from two of the best specimens in the museum, placed at exactly the same distance from the camera so that the picture shows the comparative size exactly. The birds being so similar in general appearance, the smaller one looks as if it were further away than the larger, and this, I think, shows clearly how impossible it is for the ordinary observer to discriminate between these two species when seen separately in the field. Of course a mixed flock would be a different proposition, but so far as I know the two species never mingle, and, at least in this State, it is an unusual thing to find the Carolina dove in large compact flocks such as are characteristic of the Passenger Pigeon. In several cases, however, during August and September I have seen large scattered flocks of the Carolina dove which were feeding on weed seeds and grain in open fields, and which when disturbed, gathered into small bands of twenty to fifty each and flew and perched very much like Passenger Pigeons. In one case I saw at least five hundred Carolina doves acting this way, and had hard work to convince a sportsman friend of mine that they were not Passenger Pigeons. Finally, after getting directly under a small tree on which a dozen or more were perched, he was able to see that characteristic black dot on the side of the neck, and was also able to estimate more correctly the actual size of the birds.

Yours very truly,

Walter B. Burrows,

Professor of Zoology.

Agricultural College,

Ingham Co., Mich., June 17, 1905.

Mr. W. B. Mershon, Saginaw, Mich.

Dear Sir: — Yours of the 16th is at hand and in reply I would say that the Carolina dove is rarely found north of the Au Sable River, and I should not expect ever to see it there in flocks in the spring; on the other hand it is just as likely to be found early in the season as the Passenger Pigeon, since the Carolina dove winters regularly in southern Michigan and is one of the first birds to appear in the spring in this county, in fact not infrequently staying here through the winter. On the whole, however, I think there can be little doubt that Mr. King's report relates to the Passenger Pigeon and not to the dove. I have had some photographs taken of the Carolina dove and Passenger Pigeon together, and will ask my assistant, Mr. Myers, to mail you prints of these within a few days as soon as he has time to make some good ones. If these do not show what you desire we will try again.

Yours very truly,

Walter B. Burrows,

Professor of Zoology.

Mr. George E. Atkinson, to whom I am indebted for much valuable data in this book, writes from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, July 21, 1905, as follows:

I was on a holiday trip on the Assiniboia River last week, and a pair of birds flew by me at a few yards' distance, flashing the pigeon color to all appearances in the sun and alighting on the bank. I turned my boat and until after I shot the bird, I would have sworn it was a pigeon, but it proved to be a large, bright plumaged dove. Atmospheric conditions considerably affected the size so that I am convinced that it is possible for even the best of us to be deceived, and a scientific record must not be formed on any supposition.

Iron Mountain, Mich.,

May 30, 1904.

Mr. W. B. Mershon, Saginaw, Mich.

Dear Sir: — In reply to your letter of inquiry respecting the Passenger Pigeon, I will say that my knowledge of it is very limited except from hearsay, but I am credibly informed that it nested at the east end of Deerskin Lake, Sec. 30, N44 W31, as late as 1888. Mr. Armstrong, a timber cruiser, late a resident of this city, gave me this information. He said there was a small colony of less than a hundred birds then. Fire has since destroyed the timber there and he doubted if they were still there when he told me about them. Mr. A. was a keen observer and thoroughly reliable; had been familiar with the species when abundant in lower Michigan, and I have great confidence in the accuracy of his reports. I used to see them as late as 1883 in this vicinity. They were shot in the summer of 1883 during the blueberry season. I should estimate that as many as fifty birds were taken that summer. I cannot imagine why they should have disappeared from this region. I have no reports concerning the birds from the north shore.

In 1897 a young bird was taken in the neighboring town of Norway with a broken wing and identified by hunters who had known the species in the day of its abundance.

Dr. J. D. Cameron of this city informs me that he saw a flock of about fifty birds flying over the St. George Hospital of this place on the 28th of October, 1900. He was positive that he was not mistaken, as the birds were flying low, and he had formerly been well acquainted with the species in Canada. You can take this latter for what it is worth. Dr. C's. veracity is beyond question, but whether he could have mistaken some other birds for the pigeons I am not prepared to say. He is not interested in ornithology and I would not expect him to recognize ordinary birds, but he may have hunted the wild pigeon in his younger days and so be familiar with its manner of flight. I cannot imagine any other birds that he could mistake for them.

I have an idea that I may have seen one myself in the summer of 1900, but am not sufficiently well acquainted with it to recognize it at sight. I fired at it with a .22 rifle, and the peculiar maneuvers which it executed in the air as the bullet passed, attracted my attention. I was afterward told that the wild pigeon tumbled in the air that way when fired at. I thought at first that it was hit.

Yours truly,

E. E. Brewster.

  1. I believe that this informant was mistaken — W. B. M.