Pigeons in Dutchess County
The following narrative is extracted, with minor omissions, from the book
The Isle of Long Ago by Edwin C. Kent, published in 1933. Mr. Kent was
born at Glenham, near Beacon, in 1856. Here he describes his experiences
in the 1870's around Beacon from the perspective of 60 years.
The wild pigeon [Passenger Pigeon] now is but a memory, but it is
a memory entwined with the recollection of many happy carefree days.
I do not believe that for many years the great flights ever passed
over the lower end of Dutchess County, for I never heard the old
farmers speak of them. That part of the Hudson River valley must
have been just on the fringe of the line of migration. At Fuller's
farm, which lies in the valley between North and South Beacon, old
Mr. Fuller showed me the remnants of a pigeon net, but it had not
been used for many a day. The spring migration missed us entirely.
I never saw or heard of a pigeon being seen at that time, nor did
any of the old farmers ever tell me of seeing pigeons in the spring.
The birds began to appear about the 1st of August, and their coming was
like the spring migration of the warblers. One day none, next day there
would be plenty wherever there was food. Then the wave would pass, and
for days only scattered ones would be seen. Just to the south of the village
of Fishkill Landing, locally known as "The Corners,' was a hill called
Spy Hill, and every evening, just before sunset, pigeons flew over it on
their flight south. Every dweller in the neighborhood who liked shooting
took a stand there, but there was no certainty as to the flight. On some
evenings the birds flew in little detached flocks of six or eight, the
flocks following each other rapidly, then there would be days when hardly
a flock passed.
The line of flight lay directly over the centre of the village, and its
use showed the conservatism of the birds, for a slight alteration of the
line either east or west would have taken them where they would have been
free from most of the houses and also most of the guns.
I cannot tell of any great slaughter of pigeons. As I said before, I believe
that we were on the extreme fringe of the line of migration. A dozen or
so birds were a good bag for a day's ramble, and were picked up by visiting,
when the birds first arrived, the wild cherry trees and the wood lots that
were surrounded by wheat and rye stubble. Later in the season we looked
for them in the white and pin oaks, and in the years when there was a crop
of beech mast, a beech grove was a certain find. The surest place was the
woods fringing a buckwheat field; also, they seemed to seek the red berries
of the mountain ash.
Even then the numbers were diminishing. They no longer flew over Spy Hill,
and when hunting I came on them less frequently. During the '80's I saw
them only at rare intervals. About the early '80's I began to take an interest
in birds as birds and not as things to be shot on sight, and to keep lists
of birds seen each year. Looking over the old lists I see that after 1885
I do not mention pigeons until 1889 when I saw three in Tuxedo Park [Rockland
I was lucky enough, however, to see them again. On October 7, 1906, I was
south of the old Sterling Furnace [Rockland County], at the bridge where
the road cross the brook. On the upstream side of the bridge was a thick
growth of alders and willows and behind them a large grove of beeches.
As I sat on the bridge I heard a sound which brought back old memories,
a fluttering of wings among the dead leaves mingled with a low, rather
harsh, guttural sound as if the birds were whispering confidentially to
each other. Some writers say that the pigeon was a silent bird, but I have
heard that sound too often to be mistaken. I crept through the fringe of
the alders and saw a flock of from fifteen to twenty bird feeding on the
beech mast. Well hidden by the brush I sat on the log and smoked and dreamed
of the long past days when I wandered through the swamps and woods of Dutchess
It is known that the Passenger Pigeon nested in the thousands, if
not millions, throughout the Northeast in the 1600's. However by the
early 1800's it had nearly disappeared from New England and the Hudson
Valley, particularly for Spring migration. The above narrative is the
most descriptive known for this area and effectively describes the
last years of the Passenger Pigeon here.
The last stronghold of the Passenger Pigeon in New York was in western parts
of the state, and the last stronghold anywhere was in Michigan. By the 1890's
the bird was uncommon everywhere. The last records of wild birds are in the
1906 and 1907 time frame, thus Mr. Kent's memory of seeing 15 to 20 in October
1906 could be the last recorded date for New York state. However, it appears
he does not provide sufficient details to unconditionally accept this record.
Nevertheless, his list (now apparently lost) for 1885 is credible and should
stand as the last documented record for Dutchess County.
Actually three Passenger Pigeons remain in Dutchess County as permanent residents!
Two, a male and a female, are in a display case with other native species
on the second floor of the Grinnell Library in Wappingers Falls. When built
in 1887, the library also contained a small museum and this bird case is
nearly all that remains of the museum displays. The birds are thought to
originally be from founder Irving Grinnell's father, Moses Grinnell. It is
possible they were shot locally. One other mounted passenger pigeon, a female,
is in the collection of the Millbrook School, but its provenance is unknown.
The book by Mr. Kent was made known to us by Erik Kiviat, for which we thank
him. Barbara Butler and I are nearing the end of our research into old records
and hope to begin writing our book this Fall. If anyone knows of any documented
records prior to 1930 of any species in Dutchess County, we would appreciate
having them brought to our attention.
Over Dutchess, August