Slaughtered to extinction: Passenger pigeons in Michigan



Businessman, mayor and outdoorsman William Butts Mershon lived his life in Saginaw. He was born in 1856, and as a teen in the 1870s he loved to hunt. His father, who owned a lumber mill in Saginaw, went hunting with William and their bird dogs Sport, Bob and Ranger.

In 1809, John James Audubon made this color sketch of a passenger pigeon in Ohio. In Volume 1 of his Birds of America, published in 1827, Audubon would write at length on the passenger pigeon and include a much more fully realized painting of a male and female. Credit: Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library/Library of Congress

He wrote much later as an adult: “You may be curious to know what I look like as we trudge along Indian file … I am a chunk of a country lad topped by a woolen cap with ear tabs pulled down over my ears, a tippet [a long dangling scarf] around my neck, yarn mittens on my hands … my everyday pants are tucked into calfskin boots. My Irish water spaniel ‘Sport’ is tagging along behind. My gun is a sixteen gauge muzzle loader, sub and twist barrels, with dogs heads for hammers.”

Mershon’s favorite game birds were passenger pigeons, which numbered in the hundreds of millions in Michigan — the most numerous bird in the state. He would wait for the first sign of their return in April:

“There was a flight of pigeons that morning, the first one of the season, and behind the foremost flock another and another came streaming. … They swept (in) like a cloud. Crossing the river to the west they reached the woods near Jerome’s mill and skirted the clearings or passed in waves over the tree tops, back of John Winter’s farm, and then wheeled to the south.”

Once in range it took little time to shoot and bring home birds by the dozens. As he said, “I was reckoned a pretty good shot and have a first rate gun.” The only blemish on his hunting experiences was poachers. These were “the low-down men who would steal my birds,” grabbing them up after he shot them. Since he was a boy there was little he could do about them, and his hatred of these thieves would only increase as he grew up.

Read full article, which was written by Bill Loomis and published by the Detroit News

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gara
gara

Incredibly interesting!! I read the complete story, which was rather long but worth the time…. a very rich history that I had no idea about. Interesting and sad, but at the same time one wonders what else would you do in those days to control such a destructive population of the pigeons.
I did not know about the volcano eruption either! That was amazing to learn about, which brings to mind how much and what kinds of information is left out of “History” classes in school. This story was one that should’ve been in the books!