21 January 2014

Destruction of Birds by Telegraph Wires

Referring to Dr. Coues' article on this subject, in the Naturalist and elsewhere, I wish to add my testimony to the destruction of much larger birds than any mentioned by this writer. Many prairie chickens (Cupidonia cupido) are annually destroyed in this way. In December, 1868, near Cambridge, Story County, Iowa, I saw many of these birds lying dead on the snow beneath the line of telegraph, and was informed that they killed themselves by striking the wire in their rapid flight. Some of the birds had their heads cleanly cut off, and most of them were torn and lacerated to a greater or less extent. One or two wounded were still alive and fluttering. The spot seemed to be a favorite one for the flight of chickens. A high belt of timber skirted the river, and beyond this lay the river-wide expanse of "Skunk Bottom," bounded by high bluffs on the east. For certain reasons — possibly owing to some peculiarity of the winds at this point, or to the protection afforded by the belt of timber — the birds were accustomed to speed like arrows down across this bottom, and slight contact with the single wire that stretched across would either maim or kill them outright. Since that time I have heard of several instances in which these birds have been killed in the same manner. the destruction of these birds is so general along some of the railroad lines in the West that section men make a regular business of gathering them up as an addition to their own stock of provisions. The telegraph wires may therefore be set down as one reason, and not an insignificant one, whereby the extermination of the prairie hens is proceeding with a degree of rapidity which would be astonishing had we any means of making even an approximate calculation. — Charles Aldrich, Webster City, Iowa, American Naturalist, November.

December 8, 1877. The Country 1(7): 79.