The Bird Display
At Grinnell Library
The following was written about Grinnell Library's bird display by Dan Shapley in his Sunday Column in the Poughkeepsie Journal:
Kids can get up close to local birds in library display
The extinction of the passenger pigeon is one of the best-known stories of slaughter.
Probably once North America's most abundant bird, the migration and roosting of the passenger pigeon inspired awe. Famed ornithologist John James Audubon described a winter roost where birds filled the trees for 40 miles, in such dense clusters that branches sometimes snapped under their weight.
That roost, on the banks of the Green River in Kentucky, like every other roost down to the last bird, was wiped off the map. In addition to guns, nets and the poles used to knock the young from tree branches, the fumes from pots of boiling sulfur brought down birds by the millions.
The clear cutting of the vast Eastern forests would eventually have choked off the food that sustained the birds anyway.
The last referenced slaughter of pigeons in New York was in the Catskill Mountains in the 1870s. Many tons of birds, packed on ice, were sold in the New York City food market soon after. The wild passenger pigeon was extinct in the wild by 1910, and the last captive bird died in 1914.
But we can still see the bird, thanks to a display at the Grinnell Library in Wappingers Falls. Dusty and drab, but still evocative, a century old display of stuffed birds bulwarks the reference desk on the second floor.
The display of 37 local birds was donated by Martense Cornell in 1913, and it's unclear when the display was constructed. In 2003, the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club identified the birds and helped the library create a reference pamphlet.
The display is at knee level, for an adult anyway, and it seems to capture the imaginations of children more than anyone else, Jo Anne Fatherly said. The library's assistant director, her desk is behind the display, and she is its unofficial curator.
'The little kids come up the stairs, and it's right on their eye level,' she said.
Birds are interesting
For generations, it's been leaving an impression on them. "The standard line goes, 'I grew up here and haven't been here in 40 years, but I came to visit and I had to see the birds,' " Fatherly said.
The brightest birds on display are a pair of yellow-breasted chats and a scarlet tanager. The passenger pigeon, to be honest, is hard to distinguish from the mourning dove, and not particularly striking. But there's still an eerie feeling that comes from staring into the glassy eye of an animal so recently ushered off the face of the earth.
The children attracted to the display tend to have more local concerns, but on the same subject, Fatherly said. She can often hear them asking their parents if the birds behind the glass are alive.
"I let the parents handle that one," she said.
Click here for a list of all the birds in the display!