Ectopistes migratorius 

The Passenger Pigeon




          The passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) officially went extinct on September 1st, 1914 when the last known female “Martha” died in the Cincinnati Zoo.  During the 1880’s was when the decline of the passenger pigeon was first noticed and some states made laws that reduced trapper activity.  These laws were hardly ever enforced.  The last wild pigeon was sighted in 1889 in Michigan.  Despite efforts from 1910-1912, when large rewards were offered for sightings of wild passenger pigeons, none were found.  The passenger pigeon was extinct in the wild they now only existed in captivity.  The birds in captivity were encouraged to breed but continued inbreeding caused production of infertile eggs.  The decline and disappearance of the passenger pigeon was very rapid and the exact cause of their extinction is not completely agreed upon.  Most scientists agree it was a combination of factors.  Some of the factors include but are not limited to disease acquired from exotic, imported pigeons, destruction of the great oak and beech forests, over-hunting by humans, and ultimately death rates exceeding birth rates causing colony sizes to decrease below a number needed for the advantages of social nesting. 


Citation: Schorger, A. W. (1955). The passenger pigeon: Its natural history and extinction. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.



Conservation Issues

          For the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) the concern for conservation came too late.  The species that was once thought to be the most abundant on earth with a conservative approximation of three billion individuals making up 25-40% of the total bird population in the United States were reduced to nothing only after 300 years of the presence of the white man on the continent.  The passenger pigeon represents the reality that having a large number of individuals does not mean that the species is in “good” status, many other aspects need to be taken into account when making decisions concerning conservation. 


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