Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future

birdPortrait of two passenger pigeons in possession of and drawn by Ithaca artist Louis Agassiz Fuertas for Mershon's The Passenger Pigeon.

NYDioramaA close-up of one bird in the passenger pigeon diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

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Passenger Pigeons in Your State, Province or Territory


(Compiled by Joel Greenberg)

E.H. Eaton starts his account of the passenger pigeon in Birds of New York (1910)with these words: "The history of the wild pigeon in New York State, as told by early writers, or as handed down by pioneer settlers and remembered by persons now living, would fill a volume." From the first Dutch settlers in the early 1600s to at least 1875 when there was an immense roost at Coopers in Steuben County, observers emphasized the abundance and importance of the species. Records for the species exist throughout the year, but those from the winter months are very few. The last fully documented nesting occurred in 1868 "when millions of birds occupied the timber along Bell’s rung, near Ceres, Allegany County, on the Pennsylvania line." Small numbers of birds continued nesting until at least 1889

Last Records of the Passenger Pigeon:

A young male was shot at Canandaigua on September 14, 1 1898 and another was said to have been killed a year later by a member of the Bolivar (New York) Gun Club. A specimen in the collection of Cornell University came with a letter describing the circumstances of the shooting but because of the age of the writer/collector most commentators have rejected the purported year of 1909.

Places Likely Named for Passenger Pigeon:

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

Pigeon Hill (rise) in Broome, Cattaraugus, Chenango, Clinton, Ostego, and Wayne Counties

Pigeon Valley Cemetery in Cattaraugus County

Pigeon Roost (rise) in Essex County

Pigeon Mountain (rise) in Fulton County

Pigeon Lake in Hamilton County

Pigeon Creek in Jefferson County

Pigeon Brook in Ulster and Oneida Counties

New York Highlights:

No Indian nation has a better documented relationship with passenger pigeons than the Seneca. The bird was a part of both their diet and spiritual life. In years when the pigeons would form large breeding colonies nearby, most of the Cattaraugus community would pull up stakes and head to the nestings where they created temporary camps. The Seneca, and other Indian groups, would restrict their taking of birds at nesting sites to the squabs, thus minimizing the possibility that the adults would abandon the nesting. And the connection with the pigeon survives today as community members still perform a social dance with performers taking on the roles of passenger pigeons.

The area around Lamoka, Lake in Schuyler County was used as a hunting area by the Lamoka People, a late Archaic culture that flourished from 3500 to 1300 BC. Archeological explorations at the lake have turned up over 200 passenger pigeon bones.

There are at this season of the year prodigious flights of pigeons crossing [Lake Champlain] of a most beautiful plumage and in astonishing quantities. Thomas Auburey, Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America (1789)

In the mid-nineteenth century, Buffalo became a center for the passenger pigeon trade. Birds killed in Ontario and Michigan were shipped there in large quantities because the price was higher than cities closer to the nestings.

At Beekmantown, so many birds nested one year that the single springing of one net-trap caught 1,200 pigeons.

Henry Bergh, a life-long resident of New York City, founded both the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He became appalled at the trap meets where thousands of passenger pigeons were shot at venues throughout the state and nation. He succeeded in getting passed a law banning the practice in New York: this became a model for other states that enacted similar legislation.

America’s most famous nineteenth century restaurant, Delmonico’s, catered or hosted events for numerous dignitaries when they visited New York City. This included President Johnson and General Grant, who dined on a variety of passenger pigeon dishes.

New York Locations known to have Passenger Pigeon Skins, Mounts, and or Skeletons:

Aurora: *Wells College

Albany: *New York State Museum

Bear Mountain: *Trailside Museum and Zoo

Buffalo: *Buffalo Museum of Science

Cazenovia: *Cazenovia Public Library Museum

Centerport: *Vanderbilt Museum

Clinton: *Hamilton College

Corning: *Spencer Crest Nature Center (Corning Community College)

Cortland: *State University of New York at Cortland, Biology Department

Geneva: *Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Granville: *Pember Library and Museum

Ithaca: Cornell University

Jamestown: Roger Tory Peterson Institute

New York City: *American Museum of Natural History

Rochester: Rochester Museum and Science Center

Schenectady: Schenectady Museum

Staten Island: Staten Island Museum (?)

Westfield: *Westfield Public Library

Yonkers: Hudson River Museum (?)

* 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 New York

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 New York. [Schorger-NY.pdf]

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

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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