Passenger Pigeon

Formerly superabundant Bird of the Dove family (Columbidae) in the central and eastern United States, presumed extinct since 1914.

Scientific name: Ectopistes migratorius, given by Carl von Linné in 1766.

Physical description: Length, 16 inches. Blue-gray head, neck, back, and wings. Cinnamon-pink underparts. Long tail.

Behavior: Flocks of millions of pigeons used to fill the sky, blocking out the sunlight, roaring like a locomotive, and flying nearly 60 miles an hour for hours at a time. One flock moving between Kentucky and Indiana in the early 1800s

The Passenger PIGEON (Ectopistes migratorius), presumed extinct since 1914. (© 2002, Inc., an IMSI Company)

was estimated as 1 mile wide and 240 miles long.

Distribution: Scattered sightings in northern Michigan, West Virginia, and New Jersey.

Significant sightings: On October 26, 1907, A. B. Elbon, of Webster Springs, West Virginia, reported a flock of about 500 pigeons on Elk Mountain.

On June 10, 1929, Robert H. Wright observed a pair of birds at close range on Highway M-28, 16 miles from Munising, Michigan.

Bacteriologist Philip Hadley and a friend were hunting in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in September 1929 when they saw a Passenger pigeon perched nearby. it took flight immediately. They were certain of its identity, since they had seen these pigeons in their youth.

Two sightings in 1965 at Homer, Michigan, and Park Ridge, New Jersey, were probably mourning doves.

Present status: The most numerous of all birds on Earth in the early nineteenth century, the Passenger pigeon was hunted relentlessly until the last individual, Martha, a female at the


Cincinnati Zoo, died on September 1, 1914. The last major nestings were on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in 1881 and in Wisconsin in 1882. The last confirmed wild specimen was killed near Sargents, Ohio, by fourteen-year-old Press Clay Southworth on March 24, 1900.

Possible explanations:

(1) The Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is similar but only 12 inches long and a duller gray-brown.

(2) The Band-tailed pigeon (Columba fasciata) may have been misidentified in western states.

Sources: Philip Hadley, "The Passenger Pigeon," Science 71 (1930): 187; Arlie W. Schorger, The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955); Irene Llewellyn (letter), "Sees 'Extinct' Bird," Fate 18 (September 1965): 129; Stella Fenell (letter), "Passenger Pigeons Fly Again," Fate 19 (January 1966): 132; Christopher Cokinos, Hope Is the Thing with Feathers (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2000), pp. 195-278; Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001), pp. 188-194.

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