If a Museum needed a passenger pigeon…

Where Could You Buy a Passenger Pigeon in 1908?


Net Used to Catch Passenger Pigeons

Net Used to Catch Passenger Pigeons

From the Tompkins County Museum in New York and WHCU870:
“Now extinct, passenger pigeons used to migrate by the millions from one feeding ground to another. They flocked to wheat field and buckwheat fields. Sometimes a single tree held as many as one hundred pigeon nests. The passenger pigeon was larger than the dove, and of a bluish color on top, with reddish brown underneath. The birds were long and slender with small heads and strong wings. Farmers considered them to be a nuisance.

Inhabitants had several methods of getting rid of these pests. Some shot them, or knocked them down with poles. Others stifled them by burning sulfur in pots underneath trees, and then cut down the trees to bring them down. The birds could be eaten fresh, salted, or fed to hogs to fatten them up.

People believed that there were so many pigeons that there was no danger of them ever becoming extinct. Pigeon slaughter was a legitimate industry. Some towns even set up ten dollar fines for anyone who damaged nets or attempted to set birds free from them. Unfortunately, over time the birds became scarce. Farmers saw less and less of them. The last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. They are now completely extinct.

This net, donated by Court Bellis, was used by his father, Charles Bellis. It measures sixteen by twenty-four feet. Charles Billings made it in 1850, to replace one that had been damaged by the birds themselves. Bellis remembered going out with the net and catching at least 500 birds at once. The birds migrated in such large numbers that they cast a shadow on the ground, as if a large dark cloud was passing over. David Quigg, Ithaca’s first merchant, used to ship the pigeons by the barrel to New York City by horse express. Those that were not killed were examined and saved for stool pigeons.

Source: Interview with Court Bellis (in accession file 35.01)”