Passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) are extinct birds that once existed in massive numbers. The world's final confirmed passenger pigeon passed away in captivity in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Excessive hunting and habitat ruination -- along with some other factors -- brought upon the species' extinction. As their scientific name expresses, these small creatures were all about migration.
Immense Migrating Flocks
Flocks of passenger pigeons in migration were enormous, sometimes consisting of 2 billion individuals at a time -- a mind-numbing concept to grasp. The birds had extremely companionable natures. When they would travel through the sky all together, their numbers were so immense that they actually made the sky look dark for days on end, due to blocking the sun. Groups of migrating passenger pigeons were guessed to have been roughly 300 miles in length and a mile in width.
When passenger pigeons migrated in flocks, they began in locations as northerly as Canada, specifically the provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario. Many passenger pigeons nested in northeastern regions of the United States, including New York. They moved south for the winter months, aiming for southern portions of the U.S. -- think Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama. They rarely traveled far to the west. Passenger pigeons sometimes even ended up as far south as Cuba and Mexico.
Passenger pigeons were far from lazy or sluggish about migration. They often flew from morning to evening. Their flying speeds were guessed to be approximately 60 miles per hour.
Nesting of passenger pigeons occurred from April to May. As with migration, they always congregated in big groups. Single trees often consisted of a maximum of 100 separate nests. One of the main criteria for scouting nesting spots was ample sustenance. They nested in forests.
Comparable Species Today
Although passenger pigeons and their vast migration glories are long extinct, mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are a similar extant species. However, there are a couple notable differences. Passenger pigeons were bigger than mourning doves. Mourning doves also don't have the dark red breast regions of passenger pigeons. They both shared especially long and narrow tails.
- The University of Georgia Museum of Natural History: Passenger Pigeon
- The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University: Passenger Pigeons
- Encyclopedia Smithsonian: The Passenger Pigeon
- Birds of Stanford: The Stanford Pigeon
- American Museum of Natural History: Passenger Pigeons
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Passenger Pigeon
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: Passenger Pigeon
- BirdLife International: Passenger Pigeon
- Outdoor Alabama: Passenger Pigeon