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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pigeon Roost Rd. With No Pigeons

Before we got crazy into tax season, Mike and I were driving south to the lake when he commented that we were in the vicinity of Pigeon Roost Road. He related the history to me again.

The road is the modern version of what is likely an 8,000-year-old path from the heart of the Chickasaw Nation at Pon te tok (Pontotoc, MS) to Memphis in the north. Over the hundreds of years, the path was worn into permanence by Native Americans, Spanish conquistadors, white pioneers, and armies.

Until the late 19th century, the area was on the migration route of the abundant passenger pigeons. Written accounts tell of the sky being darkened from morning until night as the gigantic flock passed.

Sometimes the silence of early morning was broken by a rushing sound as a great column of wild pigeons came flying swiftly down the valley. These columns were so wide that they reached almost from hill to hill, and so dense as to darken the sun, so that candles had to be lighted in the houses. As the birds passed directly overhead, the swishing of their wings could be distinctly heard amid the roar of their flight, which was like that of a rushing wind. Hour after hour they would pass. When the sky was cleared away, it was found that they had established themselves in a general camp at "Pigeon Roost.”

Other reports described the birds settling onto tree limbs to the extent that they covered trees and broke off limbs. When limbs were full, birds came to rest on top of other pigeons, stacking themselves, scrambling for roosting spots and ultimately smothering the birds underneath.

Native Americans collected the birds as they fell dead from the trees and, later, settlers came in wagons to fill them with the food supply that was more like pheasant than our modern pigeons.

Because the overabundance caused casual disregard, sporting men from throughout the South arrived in the area with their rifles and felled far more pigeons than any dinner table could accommodate. It has been called a tragic chapter in the natural history of America. Once thought to be the most abundant bird species in the world, the ongoing slaughter continued to diminish the population. It is believed that the last of the species died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

But nowhere did I read about the gunk that must have been left on the ground underneath those millions of birds.

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