18 May 2014

Enormous Pigeon Roost in Wisconsin Woods

Correspondence of the N.Y. Evening Post.

The propensity of wild pigeons to congregate in multitudes at given seasons is well known, and many tremendous stories have been told of them, the details of which were thought to make a heavy draft on public credulity. We have now, however, authentic information from a gentleman of the highest reputation, who passed last week in the section of Wisconsin we are about to describe, of a "roost" as enormous in extent that it throws all the older accounts into the shade.

Commencing near Kilbourne City, the breeding ground extends northward nine townships in length, and probably more, with a variable width of from ten to twenty miles. The forests within these limits are made up exclusively of oak and evergreens, of a variety of species. It is a sandy district, embracing perhaps the poorest soil in the State, and apparently destitute of food for even moderate flocks of birds. Yet almost continually, over the whole area, every tree and shrub is so loaded with nests as to be past computation in numbers. On single pines from eighty to one hundred were counted, when the job had to be given up as impracticable.

Our informant, Cl. Henry Herndow, gives some curious details of his experience on this breeding ground, and of the habits of the pigeons when aggregated in such multitudes. The nesting place is not, as would naturally be supposed, selected for any abundance of food, for the pigeon can readily pass in an hour from fifty to a hundred miles, so that the range is really across the entire State, and the multitude is no innumerable that they have carried wide-spread destruction among the grain fields. The male attends the young during the middle of the day, the female returning toward evening to take charge. Only one egg was anywhere found in a nest. The incubation lasts about two weeks, and the young in a short time after are ruthlessly thrust out to take care of themselves, and develop so rapidly that few days suffice to give them full maturity.

Probably the sex changes alternately with each brood, as the process of hatching goes on continuously. Millions of the young perish, but it makes no appreciable difference in the number. The woods are alive with wolves, foxes and all the species of native carnivores, who feed to repletion without making any sensible reduction of the aggregate. Scores of hunters catch their thousands daily in nets — and bands of Indians are busy in drying and preparing other thousands as a supply for next winter's use. But all the shooting, netting, knocking from the trees with poles, and every form of destructive agency fails to make any sensible impression.

The scene in the night time is described as most remarkable. Innumerable flocks get benighted while off feeding, and, as they return, the roar of their wings through the forest is overwhelming. They pile upon each other literally in heaps, breaking the overburdened brambles, and precipitating multitudes from their perches upon the ground. The wild wings and the chatterings that fill the air as late as midnight, is truly appalling, while the odor arising from the countless dead and the droppings produce a stench almost intolerable.

The "flock," if that term is comprehensive enough, is moving northward, and will probably reach Lake Superior in June, when the "season" will close by return South, which generally takes place by way of Michigan. They probably actually make a great circuit, like the buffalo, from North to South and return. Any one curious to see this spectacle should take the cars to Kilbourne City, and follow up the east side of the Wisconsin river. The thousands sent to market are caught at points far distant from the herding grounds, so that the real locality is not generally known.

June 7, 1871. An enormous pigeon roost. A sight worth seeing in the Wisconsin Woods. Nashville Union and American 860: 3.