A coloring book is being created with a Passenger Pigeon character that will teach kids about different historical figures or exhibits at our museum, but he needs a name! So, we are holding a contest for students in the Forest Area schools to name our pigeon. Teachers will provide them with the ballot to use for submitting the name they think suits our pigeon best. The student submitting the chosen name will win a $20.00 bill and be recognized in our coloring book. If we chose a name that several people submitted, we will put the names of all those contestants in a bag and pull out one winner.
Entry forms are due by February 10th. a cash prize. Every student who participates in the contest will get a free ticket to the museum this summer to see all the things we have that explain the history of Forest County!
Why a Passenger Pigeon? There is a village in Forest County called Pigeon, near Marienville, because of the Passenger Pigeons that used to roost there in huge numbers before being hunted to extinction.
The Passenger Pigeon looks a little bit different than pigeons we see today. It weighed about the same as a can of pop (12oz) and stood 16 inches tall. It had a blueish gray neck and head and the upper mantle was described as bright bronze, violet or golden-green. The tail feathers had white outer edges with blackish spots that were displayed in flight. The wings were very long and pointed. This bird used to be found all over North America, but mostly in the Eastern part around the Great Lakes.
The Passenger Pigeon migrated in enormous flocks, constantly searching for food, shelter and breeding grounds. At one time there were at least 3 billion of these birds and may have been the most numerous bird on earth. They flew very fast – up to 62 miles per hour – and the noise a flock of Passenger Pigeons made was deafening and could be heard from miles away. When they landed, they often crowded so close together on a tree that they would break the branches.
This bird is believed to have played a significant ecological role in the composition of the forests of eastern North America. For example, White Oaks grew so plentiful because their seeds geminated in the fall, so their seeds were not eaten by the pigeons. However, Red Oaks produced acorns in the spring and the Passenger Pigeons ate the acorns. Once the Passenger Pigeon population dwindled, the Red Oaks started to grow, so today we have a large number of Red Oaks in the eastern U.S.
Passenger Pigeons were an important source of food for both Native Americans and then European settlers. Among game birds they were second only to the turkey. They were so easy to shoot, that many people did not consider them game birds. Hunters usually waited until they passed over and then just shot their guns up and would bring down many pigeons.
By the mid 1800’s, railroads came along and people were able to ship masses of pigeons to restaurants in cities across the country. Also, the telegraph could tell people where the flocks were. So many pigeons were killed that they became extinct. Scientists are now trying to use DNA to bring back the Passenger Pigeon, but we don’t know if it will work.