Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
The Passenger Pigeon, Errol Fuller, 2014, Princeton University Press, hardcover, 178 pages, illustrated, index, $29.95.
If my Great-grandfather Charles Williams had lived a bit longer, and if I had had an earlier interest in birds, I could have asked him for a first-hand account of Passenger Pigeons.
He was born in Indiana in 1857, when if pigeon numbers were dropping there were yet so many that any loss went unnoticed.
His father had moved to Indiana from Kentucky, and he surely saw the flocks at their peak.
Both of them ate Passenger Pigeon, I imagine. Why not? They were tasty, and supply was no problem.
But Charlie didn’t live long enough to tell me those stories. Instead there is Errol Fuller’s wonderfully told so-sad story of the extinction of this species.
This is a handsome book, well-done in every regard. The sad story is made moreso by the photos and paintings in the book. They tell the story from the beginning of the slaughter to its end.
There are many photos of captive or dead birds in the book. The most graphic is a picture of Martha, the last pigeon alive, who died in the Cincinnati zoo 100 years ago. She lies under glass, on her back, feet to the air.
There are no authenticated photos, however, of live Passenger Pigeons in the wild, only photos of captives or preserved specimens. That is true in the book and in the results of a Google search.
Using Google I found a photo of a pigeon trapper, a live bird on his arm, like a pet, his traps at his side, and another of a railcar hung with strings of its cargo — pigeons being shipped east to be eaten. There is a photo supposedly of the pigeons, a huge pile of dead birds, with a man standing art the top. There is one photo on a Flickr page that shows a flock of birds large enough to darken the sky as it passed, as Passenger Pigeon flocks were said to do. There is no reference to verify its content, source, or authenticity, however.
At the end of the book is a short section of quotations from writings made by people who did see the birds: Cotton Mather, Pehr Kalm ( a Swedish botanist sent here to collect specimens), Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon, James Fenimore Cooper, Chief Simon Pokagon, and Mark Twain.
They offer the first-hand accounts that Great-grandfather Charlie could have given me. If only.
There are many books written about this bird and the loss. This is the best one.
natureisspeaking.org -- a series of brief videos that make this point: Nature doesn't need us. We need nature. Intent on our own destruction, the videos suggest we work hard to avoid what on most days seems inevitable. Very well done. Take a look, then forward to someone who thinks we own the earth.
The Birding Community eBullletin for October can be read at
It's not about glass. It's about the roasting pan.
Ortolans are birds in the bunting family, found in northern Europe. In France they are regarded as a culinary delicacy, consumed head, bones, all in one mouthful. Hunting Ortolans, however has been illegal since 1999. Now, French chefs are asking for one weekend a year when they can legally serve Ortolans. Birders are protesting. Ortolans are trapped by poachers as the birds migrate from Europe to Africa. The birds,weighing less than an ounce, are prized for their fat. Captured, they are kept in darkness for three weeks, and sometimes blinded, according to a story in today’s “New York Times.” The birds are fattened on millet and grapes. When the bird has tripled its fat, it is “drowned with Armagnac, plucked, roasted, and served hot in its entirety.”
The decision on one legal weekend is pending.
I’ve been in touch by email with an architect in New York City, partner in a large firm there, who has an interest in the Vikings stadium under construction because she believes strongly in bird-safe buildings. She gave me links to web pages that contained information new to me, which doesn't mean it's new.
One of the links was to the Minneapolis daily business newspaper “Finance and Commerce.” In late April it carried an excellent article by Frank Jossi that answers a couple of my questions. I also received information from the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.
I learned that 60 percent of the stadium roof will be made of a partly transparent building material known at ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a fluorine-based polymer). It comes in very thin sheets that will be used to form what you might call pillows, inflated by air pressure (but not subject to the puncture failure and collapse we saw at the old stadium).
Jossi explained that the stadium will have glass 20-feet-wide at the top of its exterior walls, just beneath the ETFE roof. And there is the 200-foot-wide wall of glass on the stadium’s west side that is causing concern among birders. Maybe the 20-foot surround is regarded as a problem, too; I’ve not heard it mentioned in particular. But it is glass, and it does reflect.
The figure commonly used for the amount of glass on the stadium’s exterior is 200,000 square feet. Actually, and this is the question the authority did answer, the amount is 180,000, not that that makes much difference.
There will be some pattern to the ETFE roofing material. It lets sunlight pass; that could cause a serious heat problem, a greenhouse effect. The material will contain two dot-matrix patterns, Jossi wrote, to block some sunlight and heat. Birders wish such patterns would be incorporated in the glass, to lessen reflection.
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