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Historical information about Passenger Pigeons that you might not know!
HOW DID THE PASSENGER PIGEON GET ITS NAME?
The name "passenger" pigeon was actually coined by early French settlers who first referred to the birds as "Pigeón de pâsságe", meaning Pigeon of passage, or Migratory Pigeon because their migration (i.e. their passage) was so phenomenal, as they "passed" over head in such tremendous numbers. Even their scientific name Ectopistes migratoria translated means "Wandering wanderer" * Don't confuse the Passenger Pigeon with the Carrier Pigeon. Passenger Pigeons are native, wild North American Pigeons, while Carrier Pigeons (more appropriately known as Homing Pigeons) are domestic pigeons that were trained and used in WWII to carry messages. They are totally different birds! Homing Pigeons are still popular used today in the sport of Racing Pigeons and seldom used to carry messages today. A Short History of Passenger Pigeons in North America Both Michigan and Wisconsin were two of the last breeding refuges for the species from the late 1870's to about 1885. However, species essentially was extirpated from the wild by 1900. There was only one documented sighting in 1899, and The last recorded wild Passenger Pigeon was shot by a 14 year old boy of Sargents in Pike County, Ohio on March 24th,1900. While reports of Passenger Pigeons continued for years, no other sightings after that date in 1900 were ever authenticated. This record of March 24, 1900 stands as the last confirmed wild pigeon! The female pigeon nick named "Buttons" now resides a museum in Ohio where a plaque identifies it as the last bird ever seen in the wild. The boy, Press Clay Southworth, lived until 1979 and died at age 94.
In 1970, "the boy" recounted the details of that very day to set the record straight. ** [While feeding the family cows, Press observed a strange bird eating grains of corn in the barnyard. He was very familiar with local birds but did not recognize this one. Young Press asked his mother for permission to take the shotgun and shoot the bird, which he most certainly did in a single shot. His parents quickly identified the bird as a Passenger Pigeon, having seen them in great numbers in their youth. They told him to take the bird to a local lady who was known to do taxidermy. Mrs. Barnes mounted the Pigeon and used "buttons" for its eyes, hence the birds nick name. Many years later Mrs. Barnes offered the bird to the state museum in Ohio, and apparently it was not until then that ornithologist determined it to be the last authentic record of a wild Passenger Pigeon.]
[For more information and the most incredible account of the Passenger Pigeon story, the new book, **Hope is a Thing with Feathers by Christopher Cokinos is a must. Once you open the book, will not be able to up it down! Click above to see the lowest price and order this book today!]
To Read a recent newspaper article about the 100 year anniversery of the last Passenger Pigeon ever in the wild!
The Last Passenger Pigeons in Captivity!
A group of Passenger Pigeons lingered in captivity in the private collection of Dr. Charles Otis Whitman. He later donated the remaining birds to the Cincinnati Zoo. What began as a breeding group of Passenger Pigeons, was reduced to 3 birds by 1909, 2 males and one female. One male died in 1910, and the last male died in 1912. When that bird died, all hopes of ever breeding any more Passenger Pigeons died with him! The single remaining bird, a female died at 12.30 pm on September 1, 1914. Her name was Martha, the last individual of the once most abundant bird on the entire planet! She was name after the wife of George Washington. She was hatched in 1885 and was 29 years old at the time of her death. The final survivor of the only captive flock. Martha spent her entire life in captivity. She is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. It has been said that while many species have gone extinct, we generally do not know when the last one died. However with the Passenger Pigeon, we know the precise day and time this species became extinct.
Photo of Martha the last Passenger Pigeon
The very thought of so many birds is impossible for us to imagine, and that the Passenger Pigeon, considered to be the most numerous bird in the world, was made extinct in such a short time. Authors have said that there were more Passenger Pigeons in North America than all of the other birds in the world combined. In the early 1800s, it was estimated that there were an estimated 2 billion (2,000,000,000) Passenger Pigeons. (That is an inconceivable number). Accurate estimates now place the total number of Passenger Pigeons in North American during that time at somewhere between 3-5 billion birds.
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