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passenger pigeon  

The Passenger Pigeon
The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is about 12 inches mm long and typical pigeon shape. Colours and rump and upper tail covets bluish grey; upper back with some iridescent remiges lower back and wing covets brownish grey; secondaries browner grey; primaries similar to secondaries, but with a clear white edge; tail feathers white except for the middle 2 which were grey; and breast cinnamon-rufous in upper parts becoming paler on lower. The bill is black, feet red, and eyes orange. Wing length is 196-214 mm and tail 173-211 mm. This bird lived mainly in deciduous forests in what is now mainland USA exhibiting a North/South migration every year with the summer northerly limit being southern Canada, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec and the southern limit being Appalachians in north Virginia SW to northern Mississippi. Winter northerly limit was Indiana, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts normally, and southern limit being the Gulf of Mexico though stray birds were recorded in Bermuda and even Europe.

The bird was a herbivore, feeding mostly on oak and beech mast as well as seeds and fruits of other deciduous trees. It only ever laid one egg per season in captivity, though there are reports of it laying two eggs per nest at least occasionally in the wild.

The most unusual thing about this bird was its colonial nesting and the huge flocks during migratation. Reasonable estimates suggest 2000 million birds in one flock so the populations in N. America was not small. The population appears to have undergone periodic fluctuations with some years of excessive numbers where nesting sites were measured in hundreds of square miles and years in between of less extreme numbers. Insufficient data are available to explain these fluctuations but they undoubtedly contributed to the ease with which this once extremely numerous bird was extirpated.

The last specimen died on September 1914 in the Cincinnati (Ohio) Zoological Gardens. The last certified wild specimen was taken between September 9-15 1899.

Most information on this page was contributed by EarthLife. 

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Last updated: 01 January 2003