Passenger on Nest: The bird doubtless in some fear of the photographer
The Passenger Pigeon undoubtedly was one of the greatest
zoological wonders of the world. Formerly the most abundant gregarious species
ever known in any land, ranging over the greater part of North America in
innumerable hosts, apparently it has disappeared to the last bird. Many people
now living have seen its vast and apparently illimitable hordes marshaled
in the sky, have viewed great forest roosting-places broken by its clustering
millions as by a hurricane, and have seen markets overcrowded to the sidewalks
with barrels of dead birds.
Those of us who have witnessed the passing of the Pigeons find it hard to believe that all the billions of individuals of this elegant species could have been wiped off the face of the earth. Nevertheless, this is just what seems to have occurred. Even Prof. C. F. Hodge, cheerful optimist that he is, after three years' search of North America, practically gives up the quest, and acknowledges that the investigation has not produced so much as a feather of the bird.
The editor of BIRD-LORE has asked me to write the story of the last Passenger Pigeon; but I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without giving an epitome of the causes which have brought about the extermination of the species. John Josselyn, in his "Two Voyages to New England" published in 1672, describes the vast numbers of the Pigeons and says, "But of late they are much diminished, the English taking them with nets." This seems to indicate that the extirpation of the species began within forty years after the first settlement of New England, and exhibits the net as one of the chief causes of depletion. From soon after the first occupancy of New England by the whites until about the year 1895, the netting of the Passenger Pigeon in North America never ceased. Thousands of nets were spread all along the Atlantic seaboard.
Nets were set wherever Pigeons appeared, but there were no great markets for them to supply until the nineteenth century. Early in that century, the markets were often so glutted with Pigeons that the birds could not be sold at any price. Schooners were loaded in bulk with them on the Hudson River for the New York market, and later, as cities grew up along the shores of the Great Lakes, vessels were loaded with them there; but all this slaughter had no perceptible effect on the numbers of the Pigeons in the West until railroads were built throughout the western country and great markets were established there. Then the machinery of the markets reached out for the Pigeons, and they were followed everywhere, at all seasons, by hundreds of men who made a business of netting and shooting them for the market. Wherever the Pigeon nested, the pigeoners soon found them, and destroyed most of the young in the nests and many of the adult birds as well. Every great market from St. Louis to Boston received hundreds or thousands of barrels of Pigeons practically every season. The New York market at times took one hundred barrels a day without a break in price. Often a single western town near the nesting-grounds shipped millions of Pigeons to the markets during the nesting season, as shown by the shipping records. Nesting after nesting was broken up and the young destroyed for many years until, in 1878, the Pigeons, driven by persecution from many states, concentrated largely in a few localities in Michigan, where a tremendous slaughter took place. These were the last great nesting grounds of which we have any record. Smaller nestings were known for ten years afterward, and large numbers of Pigeons were seen and killed; but after 1890 the Pigeons grew less and less in number until 1898, when the last recorded instances of their capture occurred that can now be substantiated by preserved specimens. Since that time, there are two apparently authentic instances of the capture of the Pigeon recorded, one in Ohio and the other in Wisconsin, and my investigations have revealed a few more which have been published in my 'History of the Game Birds, Wild Fowl and Shore Birds.' Mr. Otto Widmann, who kindly undertook to look into the history of the Passenger Pigeon for me in the markets of St. Louis, states that Mr. F. H. Miller of that place, a marketman who has sold and handled large quantities of Pigeons, received twelve dozen from Rogers, Arkansas, in 1902 and, later, a single bird, shipped to him from Black River in 1906. No exact dates can be given. Mr. Glover M. Allen, in his list of the 'Aves, Fauna of New England,' published by the Boston Society of Natural History in 1909, records a specimen killed at Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1904-. A careful investigation leads me to believe that this is an authentic record, although I have not yet seen the specimen.