24 February 2012

Oldtime Lore of the Paroquet and Pigeon

These accounts convey details of great interest for the natural history of two iconic species at a time long-ago when they thrived and were prominent in North America's avifauna. There was no thought at the time that they would eventually become extinct!

"Description of the Green River Paroquet, by a person of credibility from the state of Kentucky.

"This bird is about the size of a pigeon, of a green colour except the head, which inclines to yellow; they go in flocks or companies about the plantations, and are remarkable for their docility; when once taken and caressed a few hours, they will have no inclination to leave their captor, but will remain about his house, enjoying his bounty with unparalleled indifference and security; when thus reclaimed, they serve as a decoy, by being perched on a pole or scaffold. While a flock are flying by, they will readily alight as conveniently as possible, and are so attached to each other, that any of the strangers that alight within reach may be taken by the owner of the decoy with difficulty, which in two or three hours becomes as gentle as the other; they are possessed of an uncommon degree of sociability and friendship towards each other; when travelling about the house, if one of them discovers a grain of corn or any other food, it immediately, raises the alarm, and by a chattering peculiar to themselves, invites its fellows to partake; when assembled, the discoverer splits with its beak the corn as with shears; they are remarkably fond of cockle burs; the same friendship takes place on finding a plant or bush or these; they lodge or keep suspending themselves by the beak, from a pin or crevice in the wall of the house, or any convenience which a hollow tree affords, in which a whole flock will assemble, if sufficiently capacious; the females of a flock lay their eggs together in a hollow tree promiscuously, and when thus deposited, the males assume the charge of hatching and supporting them; it frequently happens that there are young in the nest half fledged when others are still in the shell."

This article about the Carolina Parakeet was published in an 1801 edition of a New England newspaper.

"Communications. The Wild Pigeon.

"It is well known that the wild pigeon is a bird of passage, and that it frequents these parts regularly twice every year. In the spring, large flocks come from the south, and disperse amongst the uplands and mountains in the northern parts of this and the neighboring states; whence they hatch and rear their young; and in the autumn, they collect together again, and with their young proceed to the south. They cannot well stand the cold, nor subsist upon the buds of trees as other birds indigenous to these northern climes; and of course are obliged to emigrate to a warmer climate when the weather becomes cold and the ground is covered with snow. Extraordinary, however, as it may seem, it is a fact, that since the first of the present month, large flocks of these birds have appeared amongst us, and have scattered themselves as usual throughout the woods. Great numbers of them have been taken with nets in the upper part of New Jersey, and one of the markets in this city has for several days past been supplied with them. An old farmer who had taken 300 and carried most of them to market, told me that they appeared in general to come from the southwest : that they were very fat, and continued in the woods where he lived, subsisting chiefly upon the frozen acorns, found upon the branches of the oak. He says they are very wild, that he recollects but one instance of the kind happening before during all his life; and that was on a Christmas many years ago, when he also caught a great number of them. A curious question then arises, what could induce these harmless birds, contrary to their nature and custom, to pay us a visit at this inclement season of the year?"

This article about the Passenger Pigeon was published in an 1815 edition of a New York newspaper.