Passenger Pigeon

From Ohio History Central
During their passage the sun was darkened and the moon refused to give her light. The beating of their wings was like the voice of thunder and their steady on-coming like the continuous roar of Niagara. Where they roosted great branches, and even trees two feet in diameter, were broken down beneath their weight, and where they nested a hundred square miles of timber groaned with the weight of their nest or lay buried in ordure.

- W.L. Dawson, The Birds of Ohio, 1903


Scientific Name: Ectopistes migratorius
Habitat: Areas with hardwood trees such as oak, chestnut and beech; croplands
Adult Body Length: 17 inches
Nesting Period: March - early April
Clutch Size: 1
Foods: Acorns, chestnuts, beechnuts, and any available crop; also insects, worms and weed seeds.


The passenger pigeon had pinkish tinted gray feathers, red eyes and feet, and a black bill. At one time considered too numerous to count, the passenger pigeon became extinct by the early 20th century.



At almost every archaeological dig site in Ohio, skeletal remains of passenger pigeons have been found. This is strong evidence that they were an important food source.

19th Century

Passenger pigeons lived in Ohio throughout the year, but they were most numerous during spring and summer. Large flocks would fly, sometimes hundreds of miles, until a large food supply was found. In 1806, ornithologist Alexander Wilson reported seeing a flock of migrating passenger pigeons that was a mile wide and two-hundred-and-forty miles long. He estimated that there were 2 billion birds.

The birds' populations began to decline dramatically in the mid-1800s. How could the world's most abundant bird become extinct in such a short period of time? The clearing of forests and the fact that they laid only one egg at a time were two reasons. However the biggest cause for their disappearance was uncontrolled hunting.

Before sunset I reached Louisville, distant from Hardensburgh fifty-five miles, the pigeons were still passing in undiminished number, and continued to do so for three days in succession. The people were all in arms. The banks of the Ohio were crowded with men and boys, incessantly shooting at the pilgrims, which there flew lower as they passes the river. Multitudes were thus destroyed. For a week or more, the population fed on no other flesh than that of pigeons, and talked of nothing but pigeons.

- John James Audubon, The Birds of America, 1844.

Between 1866 and 1876, nearly 12 million nesting pigeons were killed.

20th Century

The last passenger pigeon killed in Ohio was in 1900, in Pike County. The last captive pigeon, "Martha," died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

See Also


  1. Peterjohn, John. The Birds of Ohio; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN; 1989.