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For the Birds!

"With Best Wishes"

Postcard from the Longmeadow Historical Society Archives

It's For the Birds!

Did you know that there used to be a crow bounty? Crows were such a pest to farmers that any enterprising resident could be paid for any crows they turned in--and they didn't need to turn in the whole bird! Submitting the heads was enough to earn your bounty, so you were free to keep the rest. Remember the rhyme "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie?" Maybe it really took that many to bake a decent-sized dinner!

Town records in the archives of the Longmeadow Historical Society from 1794 bear witness to the practice: "Samuel Parsons for four young crows...and Nathaniel Ely for killing 13 young crows and 3 old ones.. and Elijah Burt for killing 4 young crows." And from 1791: "To Samuel Williams for killing 4 old crows and 9 young..To Hezikiah Hale for payment for 3 old Crows and 3 young, To Jonathan Burt for Paying for 2 old Crows and 6 young."

And crows weren't the only cash crop bird--people used to tell stories of the famed passenger pigeons flying overhead for hours or days, darkening the skies like a storm. Passenger pigeons were once the most abundant bird in eastern North America, numbering between 3 and 5 billion! Loss of habitat and overhunting led to their decline. Hunting them was so easy that they weren't even considered a game bird - anyone could fire into a flock without aiming and bring down dozens of birds. People also were able to get paid for catching "pigeons" as a source of income. The passenger pigeon was extinct by 1914.

What about our wild turkey? You may remember that Benjamin Franklin championed the wild turkey over the bald eagle, feeling that the turkey was a "bird of Courage" and the bald eagle a "Bird of bad moral Character." But the wild turkey was already disappearing by the time Ben offered his opinion. In fact, the wild turkey had been hunted to near extinction by the late 1600s. According to the New England Historical Society, "Connecticut saw its last wild turkey in 1813. Vermont had none by 1842, and they disappeared from Massachusetts in 1851." Part of the problem may have been that the wild turkey didn't migrate, and they had the habit of roosting in the same tree every night, making hunting them easy!

Efforts to reintroduce the wild turkey in New England began to have some success in the 1970s. Now all of the New England states have large numbers of the sassy birds--enough that people complain about them being overly aggressive in the suburbs attacking people and disrupting gardens. An article in the Stamford Advocate suggested that anyone threatened by a turkey should "open an umbrella and walk toward the turkey; it will run away."

These days, a trip to the Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge down Bark Haul or Emerson Roads will show you just how comfortable Longmeadow's birds are feeling in their habitats. No more bounties on their lovely bird heads!

-Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society

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