Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future

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Passenger Pigeons in Your State, Province or Territory


(Compiled by Joel Greenberg)

Iowa was at the western edge of the major migratory pathways of passenger pigeons and at the southern edge of the main breeding range. Most records of passenger pigeons in the state are from the eastern half of the state, especially along the Mississippi River. The species is known to have nested in at least 11 counties (James Dinsmore, A Country So Full of Game (1994).

Late Records:  

Clement Webster, an experienced observer, reported seeing one bird in Charles City in 1898. The last specimen was a young male shot two years earlier at Keokuk and is now in the collection of the University of Michigan.

Places Likely Named for Passenger Pigeon

There are at least 5 places in Iowa with pigeon in the name:

Pigeon Creek (stream) in Appanoose County, Pottawattamie County, and Scott County.

Pigeon Post Office (historical) in Pottawattamie County.

Pigeon (populated place) in Pottawattamie County.

Iowa Highlights
Passenger pigeon remains have been found in least four archeological sites within the state: Wall Ridge Earthlodge (1200 years Before Present), Brewster Site (1100 BP), Kimball Site (900 BP), Mill Creek Indian Village (700 BP).

My mother tells of immense flocks which visited Winnesheik county in the ‘50s, alighting in the timber, where the boys killed large numbers at night by knocking them from the branches with sticks.” Rudolph Anderson, The Birds of Iowa, 1907.

“A rough estimate of the number of birds passing a given point in spring may be useful.  The cross-section of an average flock was say, a hundred yards from front to rear, and fifty yards in height, and when the birds were so close as to cast a continuous shadow there must have been fully one pigeon per cubic yard of space . . . or say 30,000,000 for a flock extending from woodland to the other.  Since such flocks passed repeatedly during the greater part of the day of their chief flight at intervals of a few minutes, the aggregate number of birds must have approached 120,000,000 an hour for, say five hours, or six hundred million pigeons virtually visible from a single point in the culminating part of a single typical migration.” W.J. McGee describing a flight near Dubuque, one spring day in the early 1860s or 1870s.

Ellison Orr, a Waukon naturalist who grew up near Pottsville in Allamakee County, writes of a nesting area [probably during the mid-1860s] extending along the Yellow River from Moneek in Winneshiek County through Allamakee County to the Mississippi River and encompassing an area about twenty miles long and two miles wide. Nearly every tree in the area had at leas one nest, and larger trees might have one or two dozen nests or more. (Dinsmore, 1994).

Homer Seerley, who grew up in Keokuk County in the 1850s, wrote that he had eaten so much pigteon and prairie-chicken that he longed to eat a domestic chicken (Dinsmore, 1994).

“Ed Volkert of Dubuque used a net that was thirty by sixty feet. He took as many as 1,500 birds in one morning and sold the live birds for ten cents each to be used as targets for trapshooting. The crippled birds were killed and sold by the barrel, which went for a dollar on the market in Chicago.” (Dinsmore 1994).

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

Cedar Falls: University of Northern Iowa

Davenport:  *Putnam Museum

Des Moines: *Des Moines Area Community College, Science Building

Dubuque:  *E.B. Lyons Interpretative and Nature Center (Mines of Spain Recreation Center)

Dubuque: *National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

Grinnell: Grinnell College (?)

Iowa City: University of Iowa Museum

Mt. Pleasant: Iowa Wesleyan University

Sioux City: *Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center

* 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 Iowa

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 Iowa. [Schorger-IA.pdf]

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

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


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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