Passenger Pigeons

By dhowell - Posted on 03 January 2008

The passenger pigeons used to wing their way over Manchester as they migrated north to Nova Scotia and Quebec. Samuel Palmer, father of William and Jane Palmer, used to tell about seeing the last flight of the colony of birds in 1877 or 1878 which swooped over this area. The Ann Arbor public library also confirms the report and describes the last flight as being 28 miles long and 3 or 4 miles wide.

The sky was darkened by the dense mass of birds and a sound like a heavy wind. It swept across the sky like an immense narrow cloud, black as night and as Elsie Singmaster's book They Heard of a River reads, "It seemed to be as solid as the rocks themselves, yet portions appeared to
fly off and drift this way and that. They did not fall or separate permanently having fluttered into the clear air but fluttered back to be absorbed in the current which moved in no channel and had no bounds but those it set for itself-bewildered-confused... The birds journeyed by the millions... If a bird cheeped or cried the sound was lost in the concerted beat of wings as the birds followed the pilot birds."

Sam Palmer liked to watch and study nature and as his eyes followed the last of this huge black cloud of birds, he little dreamed that he would never see another flight of these strange feathered friends—now gone forever.

The passenger pigeon was handsome, about 16" long with a bluish grey head and back. Its underparts were reddish in the male and grey in females. They lived on seeds, berries and nuts. At one time they were the most numerous specie of bird in North America in the early 1870s. They were a game bird. A colony was reported to spend a year in Michigan in the 1870s. The birds went south to Kentucky and west to the eastern edge of the Great Plains. They wintered in Florida and Texas. What caused them to be wiped off the face of the earth so completely can only be theorized as disease or storms. The last passenger pigeon died in a Cincinnati zoo in 1904. It is interesting to include in this history, Samuel Palmer's account of the last flight of the passenger pigeon.

Samuel Palmer's parents were William H. and Esther Brownson Palmer. William was born in 1810 and his wife in 1812. They lived on what will be remembered as the John Buss farm on Austin Road before they built and moved to their home on Herman Road in 1853. Their families came from New York State. Sam was born in 1841 and died in 1917.

His wife, the former Frances Van Winkle, died in 1921. Two of their children, a daughter and a son; Jane Palmer and William Palmer and his wife, Laura, live on the homestead.