Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius

The Passenger Pigeon or the Wild Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is an extinct North American bird. The species resided 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 mile wide and 300 miles long, took 14 hours to pass, and held more than 3.5 billion birds. That number, if it is accurate, would likely represent a large fraction of the entire population at that time.

Some estimated 3 to 5 billion Passenger Pigeons were within the United States when Europeans arrived in North America. Others argue that the species had not been common in the pre-Columbian period, but their numbers grew when devastation of the American Indian population by Europeans diseased led to the reduced competition for food.

The species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the entire world during the 19th century to extinction in the early 20th century. At that time, the pigeons had one of the largest groups or flocks of any animal, second only to the Rocky Mountain locust.

Some reduction in numbers took place from loss of habitat when European settlement led to mass deforestation. Next, pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food source for slaves and the poor during the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive and mechanized scale. A slow decline occurred between about 1800 and 1870 followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890. Martha, thought to be the world’s last Passenger Pigeon, died on the September 1st of 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Image Caption: Photograph of a female Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) in captivity from the year 1898. Credit: J. G. Hubbard/Wikipedia