PASSENGER PIGEON | THE ECOSYSTEM ENGINEER OF NORTH AMERICAN FORESTS

PASSENGER PIGEON | THE ECOSYSTEM ENGINEER OF NORTH AMERICAN FORESTS

Passenger Pigeon was a famous pigeon that exists in the European region of the globe. Its scientific name is Ectopistes migratorius. Migratorius means “migrating” and Ectopistes means “moving around or roaming.” The scientific term alludes to a bird that not only migrates in the spring and fall but also wanders about from season to season in search of the best environment for breeding and foraging. 

The passenger pigeon’s demise is a sad example of what occurs when man’s interests collide with those of nature. This species is said to have formerly made up 25% to 40% of the entire bird population in the United States. At the time Europeans found America, there were thought to be 3 billion to 5 billion passenger pigeons. 

The male pigeon’s head and upper body were a bright blue-gray, with black stripes on the scapulars and wing coverts. At the back of the neck, patches of pinkish iridescence transformed to a gleaming metallic bronze, green, and purple. The lower throat and breast were a gentle rose, while the lower abdomen gradually faded to white. The pupils of its eyes were brilliant red, with a short, black, and thin beak and beautiful lake red feet and legs. The female’s hues were duller and paler. Her head and back were a brownish-gray tone, the iridescent spots on her throat and back of her neck were less vivid, and her breasts were a soft cinnamon-rose hue.

Passenger pigeons were commonly referenced in the literature of early explorers and settlers. In 1605, Samuel de Champlain observed “many thousands,” Gabriel Sagard-Theodat described a flight as being about a mile wide and taking several hours to pass overhead, and Cotton Mather recorded a flight as being about a mile wide and taking several hours to pass overhead. Despite this, no wild passenger pigeons could be seen by the early 1900s.

On March 24, 1900, near Sargents, Pike County, Ohio, one of the last certified reports of a wild bird catch was made. At this time, only a few birds in captivity remained. For the capture of wild passenger pigeons, a concerted search was conducted and awards were provided. The American Ornithologists’ Union paid $1,500 to anyone who found a passenger pigeon nest or nesting colony from 1909 to 1912, but their efforts were in vain. This quick and beautiful bird’s beautiful spring and fall migratory flights would never be seen by a man again. 

Attempts to rescue the species by breeding the last captive birds failed. The passenger pigeon was a colonial and sociable bird that required a big population to reproduce successfully. With only a few captive birds, the species could not be reestablished. The little confined flocks began to deteriorate and eventually perished.

“Martha” was the last known member of the passenger pigeon species (named after Martha Washington). She died in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden, and her body was sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was formerly displayed in a case with the following notation:

MARTHA

The last of her species died at 1 p.m.,
1 September 1914, age 29, in the
Cincinnati Zoological Garden.
EXTINCT

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