Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future

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bird
Passenger pigeon in the flock owned by University of Chicago Professor Charles Otis Whitman and kept in cotes in Whitman’s
Hyde Park backyard.

Passenger Pigeons in Your State, Province or Territory


ILLINOIS

(Compiled by Joel Greenberg)

Off the county that bears his name, Zebulon Pike found countless numbers of passenger pigeons nesting on an island in the Mississippi River in 1806 (that island, evidently, could just have easily been in Iowa). Otherwise, there are no records that Illinois ever hosted large nestings, although the bird regularly nested by the pair or in small colonies. But the bird was seen in all parts of the state and at all times of the year, with the big flocks moving through most often in early spring and late fall. In northern Illinois, at least, the species was deemed to be still abundant up to 1882.

Last Records of the Passenger Pigeon:

All but one of these is from the northern part of the state. Chicago Tribune writer Edward Clark described a beautiful male he watched in Lincoln Park in Chicago in April 1893. A young female was shot near Lake Forest, Lake County, on August 7, 1895. The male reportedly taken in Bryn Mawr (now Chicago) on September 30, 1901 could just have easily been taken on September 30, 1891. But one was shot in the spring of 1901 in Oakford, Menard County. It is the second to the last passenger pigeon known to be shot in the wild.

Places Likely Named for Passenger Pigeon:

There are at least 13 places in Illinois with pigeon in the name:

Pigeon Roost Creek in Alexander County

Pigeon Creek in Iroquois County, Jefferson County, Marshall County, Pike County, and Williamson County.

Pigeon Creek Settling Basin in Pike County

Pigeon (historical town) in Jefferson County

Pigeon Grove Township in Iroquois Township

Pigeon Hill Park in Aurora, Kane County

Pigeon Hollow (valley) in Knox County

Pigeon Creek Cemetery in Williamson County

White Pigeon (named for Pottawattamie chief whose name refers to passenger pigeon) in Whiteside County

Illinois Highlights:

Modoc Rock Shelter, an Archaic site in Randolf County, was first used by humans 9,000 years ago. Over 900 bird bones representing at least 56 species were recovered. Forty-six passenger pigeon bones were part of the mix.Now owned by the State of Illinois, the Modoc Rock Shelter is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

When one approached the country of the Illinois, one sees during the day, clouds of doves, a kind of wood or wild pigeon. A thing that may perhaps appear incredible is that the sun is obscured by them;  . . . sometimes as many as 80 of them are killed with one shot. N. Bossu (1768)

One Chicago newspaper dated September 17, 1836 says that within the past several days “our town was swarming with pigeons, the horizon in almost every direction was black with them.” Nineteen years after that yet another report claimed “a flock of pigeons, over six miles in length” crossed the city’s skies.

Every afternoon [the pigeons] came sweeping across the lawn, positively in clouds, and with a swiftness and softness of winged motion, more beautiful than anything of the kind I ever knew. Had I been a musician, such as Mendelssohn, I felt that I could have improvised a music quite peculiar, from the sound they made, which should have indicated all the beauty over which their wings bore them. Margaret Fuller (a prominent nineteenth century journalist, critic, and feminist), on the Rock River near Oregon, Illinois, 1843.

Joseph Dodson grew up near Alton in the mid-nineteenth century and remembered that his parents would send him out to retrieve wounded birds shot by the hundreds of hunters who killed multitudinous pigeons as they migrated along the river. His family built cages and rehabbed the birds that were later released when they recovered. This is unique in the passenger pigeon annals.

Chicago was a center for the nineteenth century game trade, with several large dealers headquartered there. Bond and Ellsworth, for example, had a large warehouse holding thousands of live passenger pigeons located at 163 South Water Street. Another facility catering to the shooting trade took up forty acres Fullerton and Diversey on the western edge of the city. The presence of the dealers and their wares also led to the establishment of venues that specialized in pigeon shoots. The best known was Dexter Park, on the south side. One match in 1877 involved the shooting of 5,000 passenger pigeons. Illinois was also home to Adam Bogardus, of Elkhart, and Abe Kleinman of Chicago, two of the super stars among shooters of live passenger pigeons and other birds.

The only passenger pigeon flock that was ever studied by scientists was kept by Prof. Chalres Otis Whitman in his backyard in Hyde Park, Chicago. It is likely that Martha, the last of the passenger pigeons, was born here as Whitman conveyed a female to the Cincinnati Zoo in 1902. Whitman’s flock persisted until the fall of 1907, when the final two birds died of tuberculosis.

Illinois Locations Known to Have Passenger Pigeon Skins, Mounts, and or Skeletons:

Carbondale: Southern Illinois University.

Chicago: 1) *Chicago Academy of Sciences Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum; 2)* Field Museum of Natural History.

Decatur: *Milliken University

DeKalb: Northern Illinois University.

Elgin: *Elgin Public Museum of Nature and Anthropology

Lisle: *Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum at Illinois Benedictine University

Normal: Illinois State University

Rockford: 1)* Burpee Museum of Natural History; 2) *Severson Dells Environmental Center

Springfield: *Illinois State Museum

Urbana-Champaign: Illinois Natural History Survey at University of Illinois

* If an asterisk appears, at least one passenger pigeon is known to be on display; this list is mainly based on Hahn's Where is That Vanished Bird (1963). Please let us know of any changes including additional locations and/or birds on display, name changes of institution, if birds are no longer present, etc.

Read Fascinating Historical Accounts of the Passenger Pigeon in Illinois

Wisconsin’s A.W. [Bill] Schorger (1884-1972) spent many years researching the history of the Passenger Pigeon, and he summarized his findings in his 1955 book, The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction. At the time of its publication, the book was the most comprehensive account of the species. Schorger did an excellent job summarizing the nearly 10,000 historical records he discovered in libraries and historical societies around the country, but his original research notes contain many additional details.
For the 2014 centennial, Professor Stanley Temple of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has made all Schorger’s handwritten research notes available in digital form. This link will take you to a table that provides details of all the historical records Bill Schorger discovered for Illinois. [Schorger-IL.pdf]

Read Historical Accounts from Shorger's Original Field Notes about the Passenger Pigeon in Illinois

These sources are newly available on the Passenger Pigeon site (as of January 25, 2014). The links below give access to often-firsthand, eyewitness accounts of pigeons, the table includes a cross reference to the exact page in Schorger’s notes where you can read the full text of the account and find a citation of the original source document. All these historical documents are in PDF format in sizes ranging from 24mb - 60mb. These documents will open in their own window. Use the links below to find the page containing the account you’re interested in exploring further:
Schorger pages 1-329
Schorger pages 330-632
Schorger pages 633-959
Schorger pages 960-1242
Schorger pages 1243-1585
Schorger pages 1586-1890
Schorger pages 1891-2232
Schorger pages 2233-2556

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Your text contributions on passenger pigeons in the U.S. or Canada are welcome. Email your text notes to us. Include: first and last name, and the State or Province you reference in the Subject Line.

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