Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future

birdButtons, a young female shot in Pike County in March 1900, is one of the last two passenger pigeons taken in the wild for which there is an extant specimen and about which there is no question as to provenance. She is on display at the Ohio History Center.

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Passenger Pigeons in Your State/Province


(Compiled by Bill Whan)

Historian Caleb Atwater observed in 1838 that passenger pigeons still passed through Ohio in huge numbers in the spring and fall, adding that "[f]ormerly the pigeons tarried here all summer, building their nests, and rearing their young, but the country is too well settled for them now; and so, like the trapper for beaver, and the hunter, they are off into the distant forests, where their food is abundant, and where there is none to disturb them in their lawful pursuits." Actually, large nesting colonies survived in a few spots in the state after the middle of the century, even though there were growing numbers of humans who continued to persecute them. 

By 1882, Wheaton, born in 1840 and author of Report on the Birds of Ohio, observed it had become "much less abundant and irregular." Less than twenty years later its extinction in the wild was complete. Lawrence Hicks in 1935 summed up its former abundance in “immense numbers in every section of the state and presumably breeding generally, though usually locally and in very large colonies,” citing confirmed large nestings historically in rural Licking, Pickaway, Morrow, Huron, Wayne, Medina, Columbiana, Portage, Trumbull, Ashtabula, and Geauga counties. 

Last Records of the Passenger Pigeon:
Still extant is a mounted specimen, now at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, collected in Pike County in March 1900. It is the third to the last passenger pigeon shot in the wild and the last young bird.   Martha, a pigeon kept at the Cincinnati Zoo until her death in 1914, is considered to have been the last of all her kind.

Ohio places likely named for the Passenger Pigeon: 

Pigeon Knob in Gallia County

Pigeon Town in Logan County

Pigeon Run in Stark County

Pigeon Ridge in Carroll County

Pigeon Creek in Summit, Stark, Vinton, Jackson, and Gallia counties

Pigeon Branch in Washington County

Pigeon Hollow Cemetery in Lawrence County

Pigeon Point in Belmont County

Ohio highlights: 

Archaeological remains demonstrate that native Ohioans used pigeons as food for centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans. 

Early explorers (Zeisberger in the 1770s, Harris 1805) often remarked on the vast gatherings of pigeons they encountered in the forests. There are records of large bald spots persisting in the forest for decades where large nesting colonies had been established.

The capital city, Columbus, was visited by a ninety-mile-long flock that passed over for most of a day in the spring of 1855; such passages remained fairly common in the state in this era, and this one was remarkable mostly for the number of human witnesses involved. 

Collectors here and to the east were surprised to find undigested rice in the stomachs of such migrants, which suggested the birds had passed through rice country in the Carolinas and Georgia just the day before, thus averaging around sixty miles per hour in their voyage. 

As late as Wheaton’s time (ca. 1882), a dozen living pigeons in the city market could be purchased for as little as five cents, while a pair of Northern Cardinals cost two dollars. Kentucky and Ohio were at an early date the locales for the most spectacular recorded gatherings of pigeons, but with the hewing of the forests and increased local hunting pressure, large concentrations of pigeons were found farther north, in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan after the Civil War and into the 1880s. At one time, an Ohio nest site such as the Bloody Run Swamp in Licking County could justly be called the largest in the state, while sites 300 miles northwest in Michigan were many times more extensive.

Ohio locations known to have Passenger Pigeon skins, mounts, or skeletons:

Akron: Summit County Historical Society (1)

Bay Village: Lake Erie Nature and Science Center (1)*

Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University

East Liverpool: Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center (1)*

Cincinnati: Cincinnati Museum Center (12; three mounts, one egg, the rest skins)*
                Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens*; Ed Maruska

Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Natural History (1)*

Columbus:  1) Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity (16); 2) Ohio Historical Society (3)*

Dayton: Aulwood Audubon Center (1)*

Dayton: Boonshoft Museum of Discovery (6)*

Delaware: Ohio Wesleyan University (1)*

Huron: Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Preserve (2: one juv.)*

Indian Hill: W. Roger Fry

Norwalk: Firelands Historical Society (1)*

Oberlin: Oberlin College (1)

Oxford: Miami University Museum (1)

Portsmouth: Portsmouth Public Library (1)*

* 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 Ohio

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 Ohio. [Schorger-OH.pdf]

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

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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