Passenger Pigeon

Ectopistes migratorius

Summary 7

The Passenger Pigeon or Wild Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is an extinct North American bird. The species lived in enormous migratory flocks until the early 20th century, when hunting and habitat destruction led to its demise. One flock in 1866 in southern Ontario was described as being 1 mi (1.5 km) wide and 300 mi (500 km) long, took 14 hours to pass, and held in excess of 3.5 billion birds. That number, if accurate, would likely represent a large fraction...

Ectopistes migratorius 8

Larger and more brightly-colored than the related Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura), the Passenger Pigeon was easily identified by its size (14-16 inches), long wings, and long, pointed tail. The male Passenger Pigeon had an olive-gray back, rusty breast, slate-blue head, and iridescent neck. Female Passenger Pigeons were similar to males, but were somewhat duller and browner. Before the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Passenger Pigeon was the most numerous species of bird in North America, if not the world. Between 3 and 5 billion Passenger Pigeons once inhabited the eastern United States and southern Canada. During the breeding season, massive flocks of Passenger Pigeons gathered to breed at a handful of locations in New England, the Mid-Atlantic region, the Ohio River valley, and the lower Great Lakes. Passenger Pigeon flocks rarely returned to the same breeding location more than once every several years because their breeding success was tied to long-term cycles of food abundance in that region. After the breeding season, Passenger Pigeon flocks wandered widely across eastern North America, being found wherever food was abundant. Flocks sometimes strayed as far afield as arctic Canada, central Mexico, and Cuba. Passenger Pigeon flocks required large tracts of old-growth deciduous forest in which to nest and feed. This species often did significant damage to the places it visited: Early naturalists recorded Passenger Pigeon flocks uprooting trees with their massive weight and smothering the undergrowth with a layer of droppings several inches thick. Passenger Pigeon flocks ate massive quantities of seeds and tree nuts, including acorns, chestnuts, and beechnuts. Passenger Pigeon flocks hundreds of miles long and several miles wide might have been observed travelling from one feeding site to another. However, as European Americans moved west during the nineteenth century, Passenger Pigeons and their habitat began to be exploited. Professional “pigeoners” shot countless Passenger Pigeons each year while loggers destroyed this species' breeding habitat. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Passenger Pigeon populations crashed, and the species never recovered. The last wild Passenger Pigeon was shot in 1900, and the species became extinct when the last captive Passenger Pigeon, a female named Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

Threat Status: Extinct

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) Patrick Coin, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  2. (c) Dean, James P, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  3. (c) Schmidt, Brian K., some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  4. (c) Donald E. Hurlbert, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  5. (c) Patrick Coin, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  6. (c) 2013 Simon J. Tonge, some rights reserved (CC BY),
  7. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA),
  8. (c) Unknown, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),

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