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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Passenger Pigeon And Its Demise

Dallas Bogan on 8 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Americans are traditionally meat eaters. Perhaps when our forefathers arrived in this country, with the abundance of so many varieties of game, hunting was considered a daily task.
Birds were plentiful for the hunt such as wild pigeons, quail, ducks, wild turkeys, grouse and water birds of all kinds.
Wild pigeons were so numerous in the State at one time they were considered a pest. They generally resorted to the lowlands encircling small lakes, or to the shores of Lake Erie extending their range on to Michigan and Indiana.
Records state that the passenger pigeon appeared on the coast of Maine as early as July 1605. In 1643, the Plymouth Colony was faced with famine when great flocks swept down upon their ripened corn and wheat, beat it down and consumed a great quantity of grain.
History states that they were the most numerous of all birds. They inhabited the whole forest area of eastern North America, breeding in Ontario, Quebec, Northern Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and southward as far as parts of Mississippi, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
One of the greatest breeding grounds in the United States in early times was near Shelbyville, KY. These grounds were 40 miles long and one mile wide.
At one time they started to fly from Frankfort, Ky., and from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., the flocks were estimated to be 240 miles long and one mile wide, and contained 2 billion 230 million pigeons.
It was dangerous to go into the forest when the birds were roosting. Great confusion and noise inhabited the woodland at this point. Large branches broke under the weight of the birds. It was said that trees two feet in diameter were broken off not far from the ground.
The Cleaveland Herald, in 1842, informs us that huge numbers of them had been seen for some days passing westward along the shore. It reports:
"They have been in the habit of nesting in the southern portion of this county. Farmers do not look upon these squatters in a friendly light on account of their predatory habits in visiting the fields of grain in the vicinity.
"Immense numbers of imperfectly fledged young are taken alive to gratify the appetites of city epicures. As they build their nests as compact as possible, literally covering the trees and saplings, sometime extending their settlements in this way for miles, their capture is rendered comparatively easy. We are informed that three waggons with over three thousand pigeons from the vicinity of their nesting lately passed near this place on their way to Buffalo.
"Some twelve or fifteen years ago, the woods of this section were literally alive with pigeons in autumn. The extensive windfall in Lorain County, some eight miles back from the Lake, was their grand roost and such multitudes congregated there nightly that the roar of their million wings sounded at a distance of miles like the heavy surges of Erie beating on an iron- bound coast.
"A visit to the roost at night was worth a short journey. The thick second growth sapplings were covered as with leaves by wild birds, and blinded by a glaring torch a waggon-load could be taken in a short time."
Wild pigeons abounded by the millions in all parts of the Ohio country. An article uncovered in the Springfield Republic of November 2, 1843, was copied from the Stark County Repository. It read:
"Pigeon slaughter - on Monday last pigeons were unusually abundant about town. Several parties of sportsmen went out in pursuit of them. One party killed about 1100 from one pole - another about a thousand - another nine hundred and others from 500 to 600. Like gallant sportsmen, most of the parties on bringing home the spoils, distributed them among the citizens gratis."
A Chillicothe paper reported in 1820 that so many pigeons were gathered on the waters of the Scioto that "their noise when on the roost seems to a person at a mile distant like the noise of a distant waterfall and when they rise they literally darken the air."
A report from Fayette County states that an enormous amount of pigeon roosts were located in a dense grove of trees extending a mile and a half down both banks of Paint Creek known as Cedar Hole.
The newspaper report also says that "the noise at night caused by the continual fluttering of the birds and the cracking of overhead branches could be heard for quite a distance and each morning the ground was strewn with dead and wounded birds."
Men gathered from miles around to watch them as they flew in. One source said that "the noise of their arrival was almost equal to the roar of a cataract continuing for two or three hours until they became so far settled down as the breaking of limbs would permit. The men knocked them off the trees, and wrung off their heads."
Other methods of catching them were by setting traps. Hundreds were caught and were turned over to the housewife or inn- keeper to be used as pies. And some were sold for as little as six cents a dozen.
For seventy-five years previous to the demise of the passenger pigeon, Vinton County was considered a feeding ground. Because of its many oak and beech trees, which would furnish them acorns and beech nuts, and the abundant streams, the pigeon flourished.
The greatest number of pigeons migrated to Vinton County during the Civil War. Their primary resting place was in Clinton and Vinton Township, where was located the most oak trees. Reportedly, the county had the distinction of being the only feeding ground for the pigeons in the state.
Not all was romantic amongst the pigeon hunting methods. Chief Pokagon, the last chief of the Pottawattomies, wrote in the Chautauqua, of November 1895, regarding the wild pigeon. He tells of visiting the various nesting places on the Great Lakes in 1880.
The Chief was disturbed at the white man's manner of robbing their nests. They set fire to the trees, especially the white birch trees which had a great deal of loose and flying bark. He stated, "These were outlaws to all moral sense."
He also witnessed the white men feeding the pigeons wheat, which had been soaked in whiskey and the quivering birds falling over on their sides.
The wild pigeons were plentiful until 1877. That year a great slaughter took place at Lake Champlain and near Petoskey, Michigan. The millions by train, boat, wagons and boxes shipped the dead birds.
They were still somewhat plentiful after this slaughter, but the great flocks that flew over the Ohio and up the Great and Little Miami River valleys were soon after missed.
Fluttering by like well organized soldiers, the wild pigeon now lies as a memory to a time when it didn't seem to matter whether survival was important or not.
The last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati zoo in 1912.

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This page created 8 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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