“The numbers are so great the sky itself begins to darken,” an excerpt from The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller

LBP Passenger Pigeon Flock Overhead from Lost Bird Project on Vimeo.

This video puts me in mind of the following excerpt from The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller.

Imagine it is some time early in the nineteenth century. We can pick out any year, it really doesn’t matter. So let us make it 1810. And let us suppose that you, the reader, have hewn from the wilderness a small area of land. Gradually, you have tamed and cultivated it, and now you are enjoying the fruits of season after season of hard work. You grow enough food, and rear enough livestock, to feed your growing family. There is even a surplus with which you can supply the fast-increasing local community.

The scene could be anywhere in the eastern parts of North America, but let us chose a state, just at random. Let us say that you are somewhere in Pennsylvania. It is an afternoon in May, and things are looking good. Perhaps it is too early to say for certain, but the year’s harvest promises to be a splendid one.

You stand in the center of one of your fields recalling with some satisfaction, and not a little pride, the back-breaking effort that you and your family have put in during the bitter winter months and the spring that followed them. As you lean back on your spade you grow conscious of a strange, far-off, almost imperceptible sound, a sound entirely unfamiliar. Unable to decide whether it is a rustle or a buzz, you peer in the direction from which it seems to come. Your gaze passes over the fields to your small orchards, which at last begin to show signs of bearing a decent crop. Then it moves to the forests that surround the farm on all sides, but there is nothing to see; at least there is nothing out of the ordinary. So you turn your attention back to the afternoon’s work, but only for a moment. The noise continues, and it begins to distract you from the job at hand. Although still far off, it is surely getting louder, and now it seems more like a drumming than a buzzing. Louder and louder it becomes, until all your attempts to ignore it and get back to work come to a complete halt. The sound is certainly coming your way and coming fast. No longer does it sound like drumming; now it is more akin to distant thunder, but with this difference: It is a continuous wall of sound rather than something lasting for just a few seconds.

Suddenly, a few birds, pigeons, appear overhead. Your first thought is that they are fleeing before the ever-increasing racket, and you start to feel some alarm. What catastrophe could cause birds to fly so fast in a frantic attempt to escape? Then you realize that this first thought was wrong. More and more pigeons are passing overhead, and you find it is the pigeons themselves that are responsible for the noise. It becomes truly deafening. As more and more and more of them come pouring in, the numbers are so great the sky itself begins to darken. Within a minute or two it is no longer possible to pick out individual birds; the multitude forms one dark, solid block. The sun is blotted out.

The black mass wheels about. It seems to turn as one unit, not as millions of individual creatures. You have never contemplated numbers of this magnitude before. It is a numerical concept beyond your experience or imagination. And the sound! Your eardrums seem ready to burst. Perhaps the ocean roars like this during a hard storm at sea, but you don’t know. You’ve never been aboard an oceangoing vessel. Now something else happens. The great flock has circled and the pigeons are landing on trees in the forest. Those nearer are coming to rest in your orchards. There seems no end to them. More and more are coming in and landing on the overloaded branches, already packed black with squabbling birds. Droppings fall from the sky like big melting snowflakes. Some are falling on your head! A new sound trumpets across the fields, the sound of splitting timber. The weight of the massed pigeons is so great that here and there it is too much for the trees; their branches can no longer take the strain and they crash to the ground.

There is nothing to do now but retreat in despair to the shelter of the house. Fortunately, the roof holds little attraction for the pigeons, and largely speaking they avoid it. After a brief period of inaction you venture out, taking your gun with you. After all, a dozen or so cooked pigeons will provide for the family. The gunshots do nothing to scare off any birds, but at least you have a good evening meal.

Three or four days pass. Then, as suddenly as they came, the pigeons are gone. Vanished. Did they return from whence they came, or have they passed on to new pastures? You don’t know, and you don’t really care.

There are far more important things to worry about. The growing crops are destroyed, the buds are eaten or trampled, the orchards wrecked. It is too late in the year to plant again, and the harvest that promised so much will now be a disaster. There will be little to feed the family and nothing to sell to local people. Nor will there be anything left for the livestock. The well is fouled, and this will mean a long walk to the river to fetch fresh water. The damage the birds have wrought can hardly be measured. An entirely new start will be needed—if, that is, you can survive the next few months and the winter that will follow.

Excerpted from:

bookjacket The Passenger Pigeon
Errol Fuller


  1. Idealjackets says:

    The incredible group has surrounded and the pigeons are arriving on trees in the woods. Those closer are stopping from all movement in your plantations. There appears to be no limit to them. More are coming in and arriving on the over-burden limbs, effectively stuffed dark with squabbling winged animals.