Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Passenger Pigeons in Kentucky's Oak Forests

All the forces of nature cannot bring back extinct species


An excerpt from an old book:

... As civilisation advances upon the forest, the wild species retreat; when the forest falls, the wild species are gone. Every human generation during these centuries has a last look at many things in Nature. No one will ever see them again: Nature can never find what she has once lost: if it is gone,it is gone forever.

What Wilson records he saw of bird life in Kentucky a hundred years ago reads to us now as fables of the marvellous, of the incredible. Were he the sole witness, some of us might think him to be a lying witness. Let me tell you that I in my boyhood—half a century later than Wilson's visit to Kentucky —beheld things that you will hardly believe.

The vast oak forest of Kentucky was what attracted the passenger pigeon. In the autumn when acorns were ripe but not yet fallen, the pigeons filled the trees at times and places, eating them from the cups. Walking quietly some sunny afternoon through the bluegrass pastures, you might approach an oak and see nothing but the tree itself, thick boughs with the afternoon sunlight sparkling on the leaves along one side. As you drew nearer, all at once, as if some violent explosion had taken place within the tree, a blue smoke-like cloud burst out all around the tree-top — the simultaneous explosive flight of the frightened pigeons.

Or all night long there might be wind and rain and the swishing of boughs and the tapping of loosened leaves against the window panes; and when you stepped out of doors next morning, it had suddenly become clear and cold. Walking out into the open and looking up at the clear sky you might see this: an arch of pigeons breast by breast, wing-tip to wing-tip, high up in the air as the wild geese fly, slowly moving southward. You could not see the end of the arch on one horizon or the other: the whole firmament was spanned by that mighty arch of pigeons flying south from the sudden cold. Not all the forces in Nature can ever restore that morning sunlit arch of pigeons flying south...

Quoted from The Kentucky Warbler (p. 148-150) by James Lane Allen, published in 1918 by Doubleday, New York.


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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is gnetz51@gmail.com