My recent fascination for the passenger pigeon stems from an article I read in the New Yorker about Joel Greenberg’s new book, A Feathered River Across the Sky, the book itself, and the fact that this year marks marks the centennial of the final extinction of a species that once numbered in the billions. Greenberg, in a chapter called A Legacy of Awe, includes ornithologist J. J. Audubon’s 1831 description of a flock preparing to alight:
As soon as the Pigeons discover a sufficiency of food to entice them to alight, they fly around in circles, reviewing the country below. During their evolutions, on such occasions, the dense mass which they form exhibits a beautiful appearance, as it changes its direction, now displaying a glistening sheet of azure, when the backs of the birds come simultaneously into view, and anon, suddenly presenting a mass of rich deep purple. They then pass lower, over the woods, and for a moment are lost among the foliage, but again emerge, and are seen gliding aloft. They now alight, but the next moment, as if suddenly alarmed, they take to wing, producing by the flapping of their wings a noise like the roar of distant thunder, and sweep through the forests to see if danger is near.
That must have been a sight to see.