Welcome to the Pine River Review. Our sight is dedicated to our little homestead located along the Pine River tucked inside the Chippewa Nature Center's 1400 Acres of wild in Michigan's lower penninsula. We love to share our pictures, video, comment, and our own homespun music. Step inside our world as we celebrate this beautiful nook!
Friday, January 14, 2011
Who Mourns the Passenger Pigeon?
Consider the Mourning Dove, bane of every church steeple in North America and public square in Europe. Seventy million of their U.S. population are killed annually for target practice and food stuff. It doesn't seem to put a dent in their numbers and indeed as an endangered species they are considered "least at risk." These meek birds are thought to be a close genetic relation to the Passenger Pigeon. Unless you are over 97 years old it is unlikely you have ever seen a Passenger Pigeon as September 1, 1914 is when Martha, the last of her kind went belly up at the Cincinnati zoo, was frozen in a block of ice and shipped off to the Smithsonian where she was stuffed and this day rests in peace between the Roswell alien and the Arc of the Covenant in a warehouse in D.C.
In the early 19th century the Passenger pigeon pictured on our left flew in flocks, estimated on the conservative side, of a billion birds!
Cotton Mather, a New England puritan minister who figured prominently in the Salem witch trials, recalled seeing migratory flocks a mile wide that took hours to pass overhead. Their groupings were the largest in the animal kingdom save locust swarms. This tendency to roost in numbers reaching the tens of millions and the fact that they gained popularity as America's first fast food became their undoing. In the early 1800's you could purchase Passenger Pigeons for a penny a piece and they became so popular as a cheap source of protein for the poor that they were shipped by the train loads to cities in the east. Oh the land of plenty!
John James Audubon described a typical pigeon hunt thusly.
"Few pigeons were then to be seen, but a great number of persons, with horses and wagons, guns and ammunition, had already established encampments on the borders. Two farmers from the vicinity of Russelsville, distant more than a hundred miles, had driven upwards of three hundred hogs to be fattened on the pigeons which were to be slaughtered. Here and there, the people employed in plucking and salting what had already been procured, were seen sitting in the midst of large piles of these birds. The dung lay several inches deep, covering the whole extent of the roosting-place."
Besides feeding the flocks alcohol drenched grain and then smoking them out of the trees another method of attracting the hapless pigeons was to stitch a captured bird's eyes shut and let it flutter endlessly on the end of a stick that was attached to a spinning stool. Apparently the fluttering wings and furtive bleating lured the passersby to the killing fields and thus was born the stool pigeon.
The last large flock was "harvested" just north of here in Petoskey Michigan in 1878. Tens of thousands of the pigeons were collected each day for five solid months. What wasn't known was the birds were dependant on their humongous numbers to practice communal breeding. They simply could not reproduce in small flocks in the wild or in captivity. A tipping point had been reached and soon there after it was over. Several billions of Passenger pigeons gone in a hundred year heartbeat.
Today scientists believe they may be able to recreate the Passenger pigeon by cloning them in some kind of Jurassic Park like escapade. But I am reminded more of a Twilight Zone episode called "How to Serve Man" where aliens come to earth and befriend mankind. The aliens inadvertently leave behind one of their textbook and the government immediately begins to decipher it. First the title is interpreted to mean "How to Serve Man" and everyone is relieved that the alien's intentions are peaceable. Only later is it discovered that "How to Serve Man" is a cook book! Maybe what comes around goes around.
There you have the whole brutal story in a nutshell. And still we wonder, can mankind effect the outcomes of Earth's vast systems? Is a few billion dead pigeons evidence of anything beyond one species playing an evolutionary trump card over another? Hmmm.
Well, at least we don't need to speculate if the fellow on the left is appropriately known as a Mourning Dove. That we know for sure.
"I am sorry to say that there is too much point to the wisecrack that life is extinct on other planets because their scientists were more advanced than ours!"
John F. Kennedy