14 May 2014

Millions of Pigeons at Great Nesting Grounds in Pennsylvania

A Bradford (Pa.) correspondent of the New York Times says: Millions of wild pigeons are nesting in the woods on the border of Forest and Warren counties, in what is known as the Spring creek region. The country thereabout is almost an unbroken wilderness a few bark-peelers, log-cutters and oil-well "wild-catters" forming the entire population. The vast beech woods that cover much of the area afford the food that attracts the pigeons to the locality, every fruitful beechnut year being sure to be followed by the appearance of the birds in greater or less numbers. It is claimed by professional pigeon netters, who make it a business to keep posted on the movements of wild pigeons and to follow them wherever they may fix their roosting and nesting places, that all of the common wild pigeons in this country form one great colony, and that the conditions of the feeding grounds in one locality are sometimes found to be so favorable that the entire body of pigeons nest in that one locality, in which case they cover an area of woods not less than ten miles square. It is generally arranged by the birds, however, to nest in two or three colonies in different parts of the country. The last time the Pennsylvania beech woods were populated by the main body of visiting birds was in 1880, when they filled five miles square of the woods in Forest county. The roost this spring in those woods in much smaller in dimensions. In 1880 birds began to arrive in the woods as early as February, and for two weeks there was a ceaseless influx. The snow was still deep in the woods and the pigeons swept down upon it by the millions, and by using their wings, uncovered the buried beechnuts. Untold thousands perished from starvation and cold during the first two weeks of the roost.

Another large division of the main colony sought feeding grounds that year in Indian Territory, and another in the Michigan woods, but the roost in Pennsylvania was so much larger than the others, and so easy of access, and convenient to market, that the professional netters came from all parts of the country to Forest county. The roost broke up in the later part of April, and in that time more than $200,000 was received by netters and hunters for pigeons and squabs killed and netted in the woods. The main body of the wild pigeon colony of North America nested in Forest county in 1867, 1868, 1871, 1878 and 1880. It is this year in Missouri.

The appearance of the pigeons in the Spring creek woods, and in the woods along Palate creek, has been quickly followed by hundreds of hunters and netters, both professional and amateur. The farmer, the bark-peeler, the villager, the oil scout, and the wild-catter, are now out in force, and, in spite of the strict law forbidding the capturing of wild pigeons during the nesting season, are taking away with the birds and their young by the thousand every day. Besides the barrelfuls of pigeons and squabs that are daily shipped away from every available railway station, myriads of the birds are killed and left to rot in the woods.

The hen lays one egg generally, but sometimes two. While she is on the nest the tom carries her the choicest food he can find, and takes his place on the egg every afternoon for an hour or two while the hen takes an airing. There may be fifty nests in one tree. The egg is thirteen days in hatching. The young bird is few by his parents for thirteen days. The food is sometimes carried twenty miles or more by the old birds. By some mysterious process it is changed in their crops to a sort of whey. This the young bird sucks from the crop by inserting its beak in the open mouth of the old bird. This food is called "pigeon milk." When the squab is 13 days old, it is as round and fat as a butter ball, and is left to itself by its parents. The woods are constantly full of these comical-looking birds during mating time. They cannot fly for two or three days, and during that interval they tumble and stagger about like tipsy men. By and by they find their wings. These helpless squabs are virtually "scooped up" by the thousand and sent to market. They are worth $3 a dozen. A pair of pigeons hatch three broods before the roost breaks up. Then the mass of birds separate and go to all parts of the country in isolated flocks that are seen from late in the spring until fall. In November they gather together again and seek a common home for the winter.

June 26, 1886. Millions of pigeons. The great nesting grounds in Forest and Warren counties, Pennsylvania. Sacramento Daily Record-Union 55(108): 8.