Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Passenger Pigeon - from Edcon Publishing

Flocks of these birds could quickly strip a field of grain.

A place you will read about: Montreal, a large city in Canada .
People you will read about: John Jacob Audubon: an American painter who studied birds.
Alexander Wilson: a man who studied birds and made pictures of them.

Once there were millions and millions of passenger pigeons in North America. The early settlers could hardly believe the size of the flocks they saw. When they wrote to Europe, they told their friends that there was no limit to the number of pigeons. They wrote about the flights of birds that filled the skies for miles. The Europeans found it hard to believe that there were such glorious flights of birds anywhere. No one in Europe had ever seen such a sight.

An American observer of nature, Alexander Wilson, wrote in 1810 that he saw a flock of over two thousand million birds. He wrote that the flock was so thick that it darkened the sky from horizon to horizon for four hours. He said the birds flew past him at sixty miles an hour. They were flying faster than most cars travel on our highways today. The flocks were so huge and glorious that people in America thought that these birds would be here forever. But now the great mass of pigeons has disappeared. There are no passenger pigeons left anywhere in the world.

What happened to them? One trouble was that it took so much food to keep the huge flocks
alive. They ate berries, small fruit, acorns, and other nuts. But sometimes they ate the farmers' grain. Alexander Wilson figured that the tremendous flock of pigeons that he saw would eat a total of 17% million bushels of grain in one day. At that time there were only about six million people in the United States. Wilson's flock could eat more grain in a day than the entire population of the country would eat in a year!

Naturally, the farmers in the United States and Canada were very unhappy to see such huge flights land in the woods near their fields. Near Montreal, Canada, in 1687 the number of pigeons was enormous. They ate so much grain that the farmers considered them evil beings. They asked their church leaders to get rid of the pigeons with specially blessed waters.
Wherever the great flights traveled, they frightened some people with their huge numbers that darkened the skies for hours. They were not flying to find a different climate. They were simply searching for food. When the pigeons discovered enough food, they would land on all of the trees in the neighborhood. Every twig on every branch became a landing place. Sometimes so many birds landed on a single branch that the branch broke. Sometimes an entire tree would be stripped of every twig by the weight of the passenger pigeons.

Although the pigeons ate a lot, they were also good to eat. They were good-sized birds with heavy bodies. Counting their eight-inch tails, the male pigeons were about seventeen inches long. The males were colored dark blue above and deep red below. Their necks were brilliant shades of shining colors. The females were not so brilliant. They were smaller and less colorful.

The early settlers found both the males and females very tasty. At first they would eat what birds they could and preserve a few barrels of pigeons to help feed their families through the long winters.

Then the trains came along.

There seemed to be no limit to the number of birds that the railroad cars could carry for sale in New York and Boston and other eastern cities. John Jacob Audubon, a famous student of nature and painter of birds, reported that in 1805 he saw ships in New York's harbor loaded with pigeons to be sold in Europe for one cent each.

Hundreds of thousands of live pigeons were captured. Many thousands were kept in cages and fattened for the market. Other live pigeons were used in "trap shooting." These pigeons would be let out of traps and then shot by men with guns. Finally the public was angered and put a stop to this cruel sport.

But the public could not save the glorious pigeons that thrilled people in North America for
nearly three hundred year~. One reason was that their number was so tremendous. People did not think that they would ever disappear from the skies. However, the female pigeons would breed only once a year. They would lay only one or two eggs at a time. This rate of breeding was not enough to make up for the total number of birds killed every year.

About one hundred years ago, some people began to doubt that the pigeons would thrive much longer. But every year millions of birds were still reported. Most people thought that there was just no limit to their numbers. When one of the great flocks was reported, people would come from miles around to kill the birds by the thousands. Some came just to watch the killing. The number of wild pigeons was dropping rapidly.

The last glorious gathering of pigeons - at least one hundred million birds - was last seen in Michigan in 1878. About twenty years later the last wild passenger pigeon was killed. The brilliant flashing flights were seen no more.

In 1914, in a Cincinnati zoo, a bird named Martha died at the age of twenty-nine. She was the last passenger pigeon in the entire world.

1. The passenger pigeon was ____________________
a. brought to America from Europe.
b. a native American bird.
c. always a rare bird.
d. killed for its brilliant feathers.

2. Because there were so many passenger pigeons in 1810, people thought that _________
a. they would scare the little children.
b. they would be here forever.
c. they would frighten the other birds away.
d. a national park should be set aside for them.

3. There were so many pigeons in some flights that _____________
a. they darkened the skies for hours.
b. they kept crashing into each other.
c. they frightened the settlers back to Europe
d. they prevented the crops from getting rain.

4. One of the largest flights reported had at least __________
a. several hundred birds.
b. several thousand birds.
c. a million birds.
d. many millions of birds.

5. The early settlers found that the pigeons ate ____________
a. fish and small game.
b. only nuts and berries.
c. their grain crops.
d. mostly insects.

6. The weight of a flock of pigeons often _______________
a. broke in the settlers' roofs.
b. broke the twigs off trees.
c. caused landslides.
d. crushed the grain fields.

7. The last flock of passenger pigeons was seen _______________
a. in Michigan about one hundred years ago.
b. in a zoo in Europe.
c. in Montreal, Canada, a few years ago.
d. in California during a snow storm.

8. The saddest fact about the passenger pigeon is that ______________
a. it ate so many berries.
b. it used to darken the skies.
c. it broke down so many trees.
d. it is no longer living.

9. Another name for this story could be _________________
a. "The Most Brilliant Birds in America."
b. "The Last of the Wild Animals."
c. "The Greatest Flocks That Ever Flew."
d. "The Bird They Could Not Tame."

10. This story is mainly about ____________________
a. a kind of wild bird.
b. the food of the early settlers.
c. the largest bird that ever flew.
d. how to breed pigeons.

More on the extinction of the passenger pigeon

You'll find many more interesting reading materials at Edcon Publishing Group.

1 comment:

  1. Really a informative article on pigeons.In old days these pigeons are treated as passengers that conveys information from one place to another but now they are only causing diseases and spreading dirt in residential areas that is annoying other people.