There are wild pigeons in winter beyond number or imagination,
myself have seen three or four hours together flocks in the air
so thick that even have they shadowed the sky from us¹
Mile after mile of forest dense with the birds,
each tree creaking with hundreds of nests,
white from the droppings.
Whole trees falling and dying.
And the birds such fools, we could pluck them from the sky,
lift them from their nests. Such billions a sign
from God that this was our promised land
and they our larder.
The war that broke our land blinded us to bird-loss.
We thought only of survival as we carried on hunting
provisions for conflict starved troops,
And still with the loss there were millions,
riches beyond the thought
of our younger European selves.
And we did not think.
We carried on shooting
and we did not think.
When an individual is seen gliding through the woods
and close to the observer,
it passes like a thought,
and on trying to see it again,
the eye searches in vain;
the bird is gone.²
¹ early settler in Virginia
² naturalist, J J Audobon
As Malta recently gave to go ahead to hunting of the endangered turtle dove, it seems appropriate to re-post this poem, which I first posted here in the early days of the blog and have re-posted at least once previously. The poem reminds us what happened when we over-hunted the passenger pigeon, a close relative of the turtle dove. I sometimes wonder whether we really learn from our mistakes.