14 May 2014

Wild Pigeons in Michigan

A correspondent of the Detroit Post, writing (from Traverse, Mich, April 5), says that the biennial flight of pigeons to the woods of Northern Michigan began the latter part of March. These birds on their journeyings from the South to the far North stop every two years for two or three nest logs in Michigan, usually coming in immense numbers. On the alternate years, when beech nuts are not abundant in this State, they take some other course in their northward flight. Formerly their first nesting was in Allegan or Ottawa county. Of late they have generally settled first in Shelby, Oceana county, and later in the season in Bernie and Emmet counties. Two years ago they skipped both Oceana and Benzie counties and nested first in Emmet, near Petoskey. This year their first flight was to the same section, but they soon discovered that they bad been fooled by the warm weather further south. The weather about Petoskey was still cold, the bay was frozen over, the snow was deep in the woods, the prospect for good feeding was bad, and after a day or two of apparent irresolution and many erratic flights the birds, as If by common consent, took their course to the neighborhood of Platte River in Benzie county.

As a local publication stated at the time, "they came in clouds, millions upon millions. It seemed as if the entire world of pigeons was concentrating at this point. The air was full of them and the sun shut out of sight, and still they came, millions upon millions more." They spread over as area of more than fifteen miles in length and six to eight miles wide, and the prospect for a time was that the nesting would be the most extensive ever known in the State. The news speedily reached all parts of the State, and it is said that in a fortnight's time three thousand hunters — professionals, amateurs, greenhorns — had invaded the country from all directions, surrounding and penetrating the nesting grounds.

It was noticed, however, by old hunters that the birds did not settle down to domestic life as quickly as usual. The roosting birds — that is, those who had not yet mated — outnumbered the nesting birds a hundred to one. Some of the more zealous and inconsiderate sportsmen entered the nesting woods and commenced popping away at the nests themselves, a snow storm followed, high winds prevailed, and many of the roosting birds, disgusted, postponed their anticipated housekeeping, and scattered. The nesting consequently falls far short in magnitude of what was at first expected, though still large in area and containing millions of birds. It scattered along the banks of the Platte River, the townships of Almira, Zeeland, and Homestead. The distance from one end to the other is over ten miles, and the width varies from a few rods to three or four miles. There are, however, numerous long distances between the two extremes where no nests are to be found, and the birds have occasionally changed their ground, so that many of the hunters themselves are very uncertain as to the exact whereabouts of the birds at the present time. In the nests first made the young are about ready to fly, and have been abandoned by the old birds, and in some places, owing to the winds and the constant shooting, the nests have been deserted before any birds were hatched.

One nesting is about the same as another, and the first nest you come to is like the million others in the county. When these migratory birds have mated, decided where to settle, and have staked off their claim, they proceed at once to construct about the slightest nest that will hold an egg and a bird. "Three sticks and a feather" constitute about the material, according to a recent visitor here. The feather is often wanting, but a few more sticks are generally added. The nest is placed in the crotch of a tree, on two forked branches, or anywhere else in the tree where suitable support can be found. Cedar trees along the river bottoms seem to be preferred, but when the nestings are large, beech, and other trees are occupied. From half a dozen to fifty or sixty nests are built in a tree, and only one egg is laid in each nest.

May 29, 1880. Scientific American 42(22): 343-344.