What Have We Learned?

In the autumn of 1915, local hunters boasted to W. Lee Chambers of “how easily” they killed a favored local gamebird:

The method was to fasten a dead or half-dead pigeon on a stick or wire in the top of one of the oak trees where the birds commonly congregated…. This decoy would lead flock after flock to the slaughter, the market hunter being able to kill all he wanted without moving from the tree.

Sounds familiar.

This “simple device” had long been used to decoy the passenger pigeons, extinct just a year before. This time around, though, the victim was the band-tailed pigeon, in San Luis Obispo County, California, and Chambers warns “against a repetition of this former disgraceful method of slaughter.”

Band-tailed pigeon

Sad history had already begun to repeat itself two years before, when Chambers found the Sunday trains packed with “game hogs” who came out to shoot the pigeons for fun.

One can hardly calculate the number of birds killed by hunters in automobiles and those who started from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Santa Maria, Paso Robles, Lompoc and other small towns…. If something is not done very quickly these birds are doomed.

The situation was grim. Fortunately, Joseph Grinnell was on the case, and in 1913 he published a manifesto to save the band-tailed pigeon in California. A new ethic shines through his observation that

we would certainly be blamed forever if we took no steps to prevent a repetition of the deplorably thoughtless treatment which was given the now extinct Passenger Pigeon of the eastern states.

Yes, we learned something. Too late for the one, but just in time for its closest relative, the other big pigeon of the US and Canada.