Taken from Maine Birds (1949)


Ralph Palmer

pages 298 -299


Extinct. Former summer resident and transient, abundant as late as 1817, and numerous enough to provide good netting and shooting until the early 1850,s.

Remarks. Champlain saw Passenger Pigeons, on islands near Cape Porpoise, York County, on July 12, 1604, as mentioned in the account of his voyage of that year. The next important mention of these birds was that of Josselyn, who lived in what is now Scarborough, from early July, 1638 to October 10, 1639, and again from early August, 1663 to August 28, 1671. In his Two Voyages (1674; 1865b: 79), he wrote: ~The Pigeon, of which there are millions of millions, I have seen a flight of Pigeon in the spring, and at Michaelmas when they return back to the Southward for four or five miles, that to my thinking had neither beginning nor ending, length nor breadth, and so thick that I could see no Sun, they join Nest to Nest, and Tree to Tree by their Nests many miles together in Pine-Trees. But of late they are much diminished, the English taking them with Nets. I have bought at Boston a dozen Pigeons ready pulled and garbidged for three pence." [Note: Champlain came from a country that had adopted the Gregorian calendar before the time of his voyage; Josselyn undoubtedly was on the old style, since England did not change until 1750. The difference, of 11 days between the two calendars, would make Josselyn,s Michaelmas fall on September 18.]

There are at hand records of occurrence of the Passenger Pigeon at about 60 different Maine localities, but there are very few data on life history. The spring migration probably occurred in April. Mead (1910a: 1) recorded, in his notes for April 24, 1877, that the species was common at North Bridgton, Cumberland County. There were "immense flocks," on April 30, 1817, at Warren, Knox County (C. Eaton, 1851: 304). In August, at the end of the breeding season, great flocks wandered about in search of food. When an unusual number stayed in one locality for any length of time, and many were shot, in local tradition, that became known as a pigeon year., Fall migration occurred chiefly in September. and into early October, the latest definite record at hand being for a bird of the year, seen by N. C. Brown at Portland, on October 8, 1872.

Nesting probably began in May, one or two eggs making a clutch, and two broods probably were raised yearly. Mead (op. cit.) reported a few pairs breeding in 1877, and, for the same year, Batchelder (1882:151) reported them as breeding, "but not common," at Grand Falls in Canada, some 20 miles from Fort Fairfield, Aroostook County. There is some evidence that, in 1879, more were seen in Maine than for some time previously, or probably ever after. Hardy (1881) wrote that the "thousands" of former times had dwindled to the point where it was difficult to get specimens for collectors. In the following year, N. C. Brown (1882f: 23) stated that this bird occurred in the Portland region chiefly as a "rare autumnal visitor, first appearing in the latter part of August," and that it possibly bred occasionally, "scant evidence of which exists in the occurrence of full-grown young, late in June."

The last generally accepted record of this species in Maine is for a bird taken at Dexter, Penobscot County, and reported by Knight (1896g), the date being August 16, 1896 (Knight, 1897d: 56). Later, Knight (1908a: 54) wrote: "Mr. Harry Merrill, of Bangor, recently informed me that in the early summer of 1904 he saw a female Passenger Pigeon at Baxter,s taxidermist shop in Bangor. The bird had recently been mounted and had the wrappings still on it when first seen by Mr. Merrill. Mr. Baxter stated that it had been sent him from Bar Harbor in the flesh. The condition of the bird when seen by Mr. Merrill was such as to make certain that it had been recently killed." Some writers have considered this a questionable report, but Merrill, a competent ornithologist, had no doubts about it. Before me is an undated clipping of an advertisement, which he inserted in a Maine newspaper about 1910 or 1911, at a time when collectors were eager to get specimens. It reads: "A few years ago a PASSENGER PIGEON was sent from BAR HARBOR to be mounted by a Bangor taxidermist. Can any one tell me who shot it, or who owns it at present? Write HARRY MERRILL, Bangor, Maine." I am not aware that the bird in question ever was located.


Contributed by Jim Forrest


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