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Wyalusing History

Monument Is Planned to Passenger Pigeons

Source: The Milwaukee Journal, 29 Aug 1943; transcribed by MD:

Wisconsin is going to be the second state to erect a monument to a bird. It will stand in beautiful Wyalusing state park where the Wisconsin river joins the Mississippi. As soon as the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology can get priority on bronze, it will go ahead with the erection of a memorial to the passenger pigeon, the bird which once nested in this state by the millions.

The only other monument to a bird which the society knows about is the nationally famous one to the gull which stands in Salt Lake City as a reminder of the time when gulls appears in the Mormon settlements and devoured swarms of locusts.

Flights in the Millions

The foundation has been built in Wyalusing park with the help of P.A. Lawrence, park superintendent. Phil Sander, sportsman and outdoorsman of Kenosha, has designated [sic] the memorial. On the committee are Owen Gromme, Milwaukee ornithologist, chairman; Walter E. Scott, Madison; Clarence Young, Milwaukee; A. W. Schorger, Madison, and Miss Elizabeth Oelenschalger, Milwaukee.

The passenger pigeon was one of the greatest of the game birds on the continent. The last passenger pigeon on record died in the Cincinnati zoo Sept. 1, 1914.

Men now living in Wisconsin remember the heydey of the bird. Many of them can recall the spring of 1871, the last time that passenger pigeons funneled into Wisconsin as they had in other springs. They came by the millions, up the Rock river valley, darkening the sun in some places. Professional hunters kept track of their whereabouts by telegraphing around the state.

Sold for Cent Apiece

Such hunters and "sportsmen" came from New York, some with hundreds of pounds of shot and shell, to follow the flight. Barrels of dead pigeons went through Milwaukee, each barrel containing 25 dozen birds. The New York market was so glutted in the seventies that birds sold for 1c a dozen. The country around Plainfield, Black River Falls and Tomah became temporary headquarters for men who took birds by the thousands. A. W. Schorger, of Madison, who has looked long into the story of the passenger pigeon, says that in the spring of 1871 the bird's nesting area covered about 850 square miles in this state.

No other bird life as fecund as this has been known in the world. Audobon said the extinction of the bird seemed impossible. He estimated the passenger pigeon population in the billions. The early Jesuits referred to the presence of these birds as one of the wonders of the world. Champlain, in 1605, saw the flights of this species along the coast of Maine and said they were "infinite" in number. The colonists at Plymouth rock described the birds as a boon and a pest. They provided food but would return some seasons and destroy whole fields of grain. Alexander Wilson, famous ornithologist, used the expression "a mighty torrent of birds."

"A Powerful Lesson"

Deforestation and overhunting caused their disappearance; it is generally agreed by those who have studied their history. The lesson of conservation taught by their extirpation is that, even though thousands of a species still remain, the species may be doomed. It is held by those who believe this that certain species of a sociable nature must dwell together in vast numbers to survive. They do not know why.

At the dedication of the monument in Wyalusing park it is planned to bring to the place old-timers who saw the great flights.

"The moment we can have the metals we shall complete the monument," Chairman Gromme says, "and when it is dedicated I truly believe that on that day Wisconsin will have been taught the most powerful lesson in conservation that it is possible to conceive."