The migrating-duck catastrophe of 1935

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          A MIGRATINC-DUCK CATASTROPHE CAUSED
                        BY WEATHER CONDII'IONS

                            B Y T H O S . S , R O B E R T S ,M . D .

      Seeing,in a Minneapolis  evening paper of Noveurberl, 1935, an As-
sociatedPressdispatchstatingthat a large numberof migratingducks had beenr
killed in a storm at Thief River Falls, Polk County, Minn., the writer wrote
                to
for information Mr. Conrad V. Hovie, of Thief River Falls. and to Mr.
Martin K. Nelson, State Game Warden at Fertile, not far south of Thief
River Falls. Thesegentlemen   kindly responded  with suchdetailedand graphic
accounts what took place that, with their permission, lettersare givenin
          of                                           the
full. It seems that such an appallingand unusual  occurrenceshouldbe placed
on record. The locality, Thief River Falls, is on the easternedge of the Red,
River Valley in the northwestern part of Minnesota,and some20 to 30 miles
southwest Mud and Thief lakes.
           of'
         The first letter is from Mr. Hovie. who liveson a farm not far from the
c i t y o f T h i e f R i v e r F a l l s . I t i s d a t e dN o v e m b e r 2 , 1 9 3 5 .
                                                                           1

      "Dear Sir:
      "This reportof the duck disaster October30th, 1935, is in ansrver
                                       of                              to
your inquiryof November                        as
                          6th. It is as complete I know how to makeit.
      "The warm weatherof October2Bth and 29th broughtdown one of the
largestmigrations northern
                 of         waterfowlwe haveseen many years.Flock after
                                                  in
flock came throughand becameone of the big topicsof conversation   among
the folks here.
     "We had thunderand lightning night of the 29th, and the 30th was a
                                   the
mi:erableday of rain and sleet. About | | :00 P. M. it beganto snow. The
flakeswere.     and moist and come in with a driving rvind from the north-
           large_
west. The visibilitywas zero.
      "'fhe migratingducks caughtthe refleclion the city lights in the sky.
                                                    of
Being exhausted their long flight from the north and weighted down with
                  by
snow and ice on their wings and bodies,they came down to earth as well as,i
plumageand in the morningcontinued     their flightl The unforiunateonestravel-,'
ing at a high rate of speedcrashedinto tree tops,buildings,fences,telephoneand
they could. The fortunate  onesfound a placein the snowto restand clea:r  their
telegraph wires and otherobstructions.  J-he air was full of quacksand crashes
as the birds struckand were killed oL crippled. Hay-fieldsneal the cly were
coveredwith a smoothlayer of snow and the flockscrashed         down into them
thinkingthey were lakes. Many were killed this way. My brotherpicked up
abouteleven  birds from sucha field. Plowed fieldswere avoided.
      "ln an interview with Chief of Police Stenberg, followingstatements
                                                     the
were given. He said:'About 2:00 A. M. I heard the crashes    and commotioh
but it was too dark to do anything. I was having breakfastas the dawn came
and a coupleof shotsrang out. Then all hell broke loose. It was like the
Abyssinianarmy had come to town'.




           d-.      Yl't t n      o ( ( , ; + h , . J / - J 3 (rse
                                                                                                                                           !t
                                                                                                                                           i

                                                                                                                                           I

                           THE      JOURNAI,        OF     MINNESOTA           ORNITI{OI,OGY


                         -j'hief
        "The people in           River Falls had wakened that morni'g and lookec
  out of the window. Behold ! rhe lawns were covered rvith ducks ! And it was
  duck season Nearly everybody who could get hands on u fir""r,n, it seemed,
               !
  n'as shooting ducks. There were hundreds of cripples and dead'as well
                                                                                    as
  thou:ands of exhausted.  birds. It u,as against the law'to shoot a firearm rn town,
  but nearly             broke th.e l3w..
             "everybody
             "l'he                         !r a great many casessportmanshipwas
  fo-rgotten.      studentsand school children were rvild *ith              und n.u.ly
  all got ducks.                                               "*.;t",r,"ni
        "'l he river runninq through the ce.ter of town was cover.ed
                                                                    with the birds
  and some of the so-called sportsmenlvere out after them rvith boats and guns.
  The patrolmen did everythingi' their power to stolr the slaughter und pr.u*t"d
  the killing of hundreds of birds.
        "l-he snorv and cold continu,edaucl gleat numbers of the fallen birds were
  covered over, not to be found tiil the ,,,o* go", off again. I.e formed
                                                                               and
  t'apped a large number of cripp.lesalong the iiuer und tiere fell an- easy prey
  to boys i. boats. Many hundred were tiken that way. It ,uu, th. greatestca-
  lamity wlrich has fallen on the ducks abour here for
                                                       i"urr.
           " c h i e f s t e n b e ' ga n d l r i s m e n p i c k e d . . u p - a b o u r
                                                                         'Boy         1 6 0 b i r d s c l e a da ' d c r i p'poe d ;
                                                                                                                             tl
 a yard patrolma' about 30 l and a call                                           about 40. t tr"".,p"l",i                       u
 g r e a t m a n y - - p e o p w h o . p i c k e du p f ' o n r l 0 r o . l 0 d u c k s . A l l a g r e e
                                le
                   'l-here                                                                                    that thourands
                                                                                                               -r"ttr.
 peiished.                    are close to five rlrousarrd1;eoplein rl;"r                             n*.,                   con-
 servatively estimating that one in {ive got rrvo ducks, the Loss,";uiJ
                                                                                                                     be 2000
 birds acco,rted for. At least that rnaiy were snoweclund", oni
                                                                                                                l*t, making
 the total of 4000. I am i'cli'ed to rhilrk rhar.a- lorv ertirnot", ur,"
                                                                                                                   Jouut
 much if rhe total was rwice that. So we have 4000 to gooo Jr.l, -t;-iwo ".,1v
                       'l'hief                                                                                    ht"d in un
 area around                     River Falls about six miles long and frorn ;;;.                                            miles
 wlde.

       "[ine,tqeight per ce-nt all the ducks were Northern
                                              of
.                                                                                              Bluebilrs(L";l
         Ducks) and very fat. l.lre othc' rwo per cerl \vere Mallards, i;;;-
fcaup                                                                                                                                  I
         ,
D a c k sa n d f e \ v l v l e r g a l l s e r sn d a d o z c r r ' a n a d i a rC e t . s e .
                                             a,                 (                r
                                                                                                                              )
         "B.pgrts lrave reachedme that dr-rcks                              were also forced down at Clear-
.      .                                                                                                           '
brook,Bagley,Leonard,and a few Red Lake Falls and
                                                                                                W;;";l;"'
         'l
            l r e s c c o ' d l e t t c ri s - f r o r nN 4 r . N c l s o r r, S t a t e a r ' e w a r . c l e rrrv i t h
                                                                                       c
g u a r t e r a t F e r t i l e a b o u t3 5 r n i l e s o u r h l l ' l r i e ft t ; " " , .
               s                                                                                                          heacl-
                                .                         s        o                          r"ti.,-*J.'li,rdly *",r,
t h e r es o m e l a y sa f t e ' t h e t ' a g e d ya r , d g l e a u J t h e f a c t sr e c o r d e d .
                   c          ,                                                                                 It is clated
r\ovemDed. lyi).   lr

"Dear Dr. Roberts:

        " . 1l l " P o l i c eD e p a r t r n e u tf r h i e f I l i v e r
                                                o
     .,                                                                    f a l l s , M i n n e s o r ah a s i n f o r m e d
                                                                                                         ,
             the desrruction ducks occr.rr.red that city early in ihe
                                    of                              in
X:.:li:                                                                                                    morningof
\rclocer , I st-
          "Night Parrolmen
^                                    .Guy l_anc arrrj 1,. W. Knadle picked up 59 Lesser                 '
Scaups the str.eers ali"ys about the city ,h;,rf;;i,J'a"rf
             o'                  and                                                           ;_fi.
          " M r . c h a r l e sC o n n o r , . a . r e s i d e n r c k e c l
                                                               pi,        u p 3 9 d u c k sr v h i c hi n c l u d e da
f e w m a l l a r d s . C . V . W h i t c h u r c hg o , i r . r " J ', p l 5 ;
j a n i t o ro f s c h o o 2 0 .                                                   C h a r l e sE v e n s o n , l 4 ;
                           l
ff::
 d




                           A MIGRATING.DUCK    CATASTROPITC



             "The Chief of Police and W. H. Quist, local Game Warden, report
       that therewere a greatnumberof men and boys that pickedup lessernumbers
                                               there were many boys absentfrom
       ranging from 2 to l0 birds. Incidentally,
       schoolon that day.
             "Though there were a great number of I\4allards that alighted on the
       Red Lake River within city limits, few were picked up on the streets. From the
       informationthat I can gafher practically all of the ducks picked up about the
       city were LesserScaups. Mr. Roy Shetlerhad identifieda few Hooded Mer-
       gansers.
             "Comparatively,    therewere not so many of the ducks found dead. Some
       were crippledand many were unableto take flight off the streets ground.
                                                                          or
       It is very difficult for ducksof the divingspecies take off from land. There-
                                                         to
       fore it seems reasonable believe
                                  to      that rnanvof the duckspursuedand cirptured
       were uninjured.
            "The destruction ducks was due to weatherconditions.The weather
                               of
       had beenfair during the last half of October. Towards afternoon October
                                                                          of
       30th there was a sriddenchangein weather'.A cold northwest      wind and snow
       drove the waterfowl down with a rush during the following night. The city of
       Thief River Falls lay in line of flieht and the low-flying birds were confused
       by the lights, resultingin an estimated killine of 600 to 1000 ducks from all
       sources,

                                                 as
            The discrepancy thesetwo accounts to the numberof ducksdestroyed
                             in
       may have resultedfrom the fact that the data for the first were obtainedalmost
                                    while nearly three weekshad elapsedbefore the
       directly after the occurrence,
       secondinvestigation  was made. The excitement   naturally attendantupon such
       a happeningmight lead to exaggeration,   which would be temperedsomewhat
       upon more maturedeliberation.
            A similar destructionof Lesser Scaups took place many years ago lll
       southernMinnesota at or near Mountain Lake, Cottonwood County, but l l o
       exact data were obtained,so far as the writer knolvs.


       Director, Museum of Natural History
       Universily of M innesola
       M inneapolis, innesota
                    M




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