Backyard Birds

Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius)

The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was once probably the most common bird in the world. It is estimated that there were as many as five billion Passenger Pigeons in the United States.

The Passenger Pigeon was a very social bird. It lived in colonies with up to a hundred nests in a single tree and stretching over hundreds of square miles. During summer, Passenger Pigeons lived throughout the part of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. In the winter, they lived in the southern U.S.

They could often be found in huge flocks—the largest of them is estimated to have contained about two billion pigeons – stretching over a mile (1.6 km) wide and 300 miles (500 km) long, taking several days to pass.



The Passenger Pigeon was hunted to extinction by humans. These pigeons provided a source of food and commercial hunters harvested them in huge amounts for food, and most restaurants in the Eastern United States served pigeons. In 1878, three million pigeons were shipped by a single market hunter in the year 1878. Alcohol-soaked grain intoxicated the pigeons and made them easier to kill. Fires were set to nesting trees, causing the young birds to jump from their nests into the bags of hunters.

(Columbidae – Please see also Doves)

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These pigeons were also popular with hunters. With the advent of railroad lines, commercial hunting became popular. The telegraph was even used to inform hunters of the locations of flocks. In 1886, it was stated that about a quarter-million passenger pigeons were shot in one single day. The hunters were unaware that they were shooting the last wild flock. In March of 1900, a 14-year-old boy in Ohio shot what was believed to be the last wild passenger pigeon.

The last known passenger pigeon, “Martha” died at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden on September 1, 1914, at the age of 29. Her corpse was sent to the Smithsonian Institution where her mounted body can be viewed today.


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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