Some scientists believed that Passenger Pigeons made up 51% of North America's bird population. Now they are extinct. How did they become extinct? Why were they so successful? Read and find out. Where did the name Passenger Pigeon come from? Passenger Pigeon comes from the name that French Explorers called them, which is Pigeón de Passáge, which means pigeon of passage. Passage is migration, Passenger Pigeons are famous for their numbers and migration. In 1886, a flock 300 miles long by 1 mile wide passed over Ontario, Canada. The passing was said to have taken 14 hours and there were about three billion birds in the flock. Passenger Pigeons may have been the most successful birds before human interference's. They ate nuts and berries and had a red stomach with a gray back. Their nesting sites were huge. The ground would be covered in dung that resembled snow. Tree branches snapped under the weight of the eggs. When a flock migrated to its nesting site it would be like a solar eclipse. Mr. Audubon wrote, "I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had, undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose, and counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I traveled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow" By day, the male would forage and the female would keep the eggs warm. By night, they would trade places. They would feed their young an enormous amount so that they were obese and would have plenty of fat to live off of until they got good at foraging for themselves. There were so many Passenger Pigeons that they were dirt cheap. It was the cheapest meat available and probably the cheapest food! The fat, little Passenger Pigeons were considered a delicacy. Because they could be bought for so little, the demand for Passenger Pigeons increased. Some people were professional pigeon hunters. They would attack feeding grounds and slaughter them by the hundred thousands. They had several tools for capturing the pigeons. The word stool pigeon comes from a giant net they used and in the net were pigeons they had captured with their eyes sewn shut and their feet nailed to a post. The flapping of their wings attracted other pigeons. Hunters used an early form of the machine gun to kill the passenger pigeons. Trains were the chief way to transport the passenger pigeons. They would load up the corpses onto the train and ship them off. In one instance, hunters killed over one hundred thousand birds and couldn't fit them all on the train. Over twenty thousand corpses were left to rot. The rest of the shipment encountered sunny weather en route to New York and all the corpses rotted. That may be one of the biggest wastes ever in the history of anything. Passenger Pigeons were also used in sport. They would ship live passenger pigeons to huntsman's club to have shooting competitions. In a one week competition they could kill five thousand pigeons.
On March 24, 1900 a 14 year old boy named Press Clay Southworth was feeding the cows and he saw a strange bird eating some grains. He new the native birds quite well and had never seen this one before and asked his mother permission to get out the shotgun and shoot it. His mother gave him permission and he killed it in one shot. He showed it to his parents who recognized it as a Passenger Pigeon. He brought the bird to a woman who was known to do Taxidermy. The bird was named "buttons" because it had buttons for eyes. This was the last ever wild Passenger Pigeon. The last Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo at 12:30 September 1, 1914. Her name was Martha. The extinction of the Passenger Pigeons may be the most tragic wipe out of any animal ever. They were such a strong, successful species and over hunting led to their doom. I hope we all learned something from the Passenger Pigeons and that is that nothing is invincible. We're so unconcerned with animals in mass force such as flies and cows and other such animals because there are so many of them that we won't realize they're over hunted until too late. All resources should be used sparingly.
1. Garrie Landry. "The Story of one Passenger Pigeon named 'George'" 3-1-03. <http://www.ulala.org/P_Pigeon/George.html>
2. Unknown author. "2003 Year of the Birds" www.futuredesigners.com. 3-1-03 http://www.futuredesigners.com.au/index.php?page=15 3.
Andrew attends Mill Valley Middle School, in Mill Valley, California, a suburb of San Francisco and is in 7th grade.