ROXBURY – The next Wild Saturday program at John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge will be a lament for a bird that once darkened the skies over the Burroughs homestead but is now extinct.
The September 6 talk, “What Happened to the Passenger Pigeon?,” will mark the centennial of the death of the last captive passenger pigeon on Sept. 1, 1914.
The program, presented by Woodchuck Lodge trustee Diane Galusha, begins at 1 p.m. and is sponsored by Crystal Brook Farms of New Kingston. An accompanying exhibit will be on view all weekend – the Lodge is open for tours from 11 to 3 both Saturday and Sunday. There is no admission fee; donations are most welcome.
Bring a chair or a blanket to enjoy the informal presentation on the lawn, located at 1633 Burroughs Memorial Rd. Follow the signs from NYS Route 30 just north of the hamlet of Roxbury.
In the year 1800, more than five billion passenger pigeons crisscrossed the skies of the eastern United States and Canada, perhaps a quarter of the continent’s avifauna. The species occurred only in North America, primarily east of the Rocky Mountains, and bred almost exclusively in the eastern deciduous forest. Passing flocks could darken the skies for three days straight. The beats of their wings would create drafts that chilled the people over whom they flew.
Naturalist Burroughs recalled being transfixed by the sight of huge flocks descending on the farmstead. “In my boyhood the vast armies of the passenger pigeons were one of the most notable spring tokens. Often late in March, or early in April, the naked beechwoods would suddenly become blue with them, and vocal with their soft, childlike calls; all day the sky would be streaked with the long lines or dense masses of the moving armies.”
However, in the face of relentless slaughter for food and recreation, coupled with habitat loss, this seemingly inexhaustible resource was depleted in just a few decades. By 1900 the species was virtually extinct, and on the afternoon of September 1, 1914, Martha, the last of her species, died in the Cincinnati Zoo.
For more information on the passenger pigeon, its life, demise and legacy, visit www.passengerpigeon.org. For more information on John Burroughs or Woodchuck Lodge, visit www.woodchucklodge.org.