Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future

TNphotoMary Ijams, whose father Harry was a venerated Tennessee naturalist, in a photo taken in 1928 holding a mounted passenger pigeon. The bird was collected by Confederate General Benjamin Cheatham about 1856 near Nashville.

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Passenger Pigeons in Your State, Province or Territory


(Compiled by Paul James, Executive Director, Ijams Nature Center, 2915 Island Home Avenue, Knoxville Tennessee, 37920 and edited by Joel Greenberg)

Relatively few records document passenger pigeons in the state of Tennessee. Although the species nested in Kentucky (generally known as the southern most range where the bird regularly nested), there have been no instances of nesting sites within the state of Tennessee. However, Tennessee was certainly known to have been a frequent roost site for wild pigeons as evidenced by the number of places names scattered throughout the state with pigeon in the title.

Last Records of the Passenger Pigeon:

The last specimen was a bird shot from a flock of eight at Brownsville, Haywood County in the fall of 1893.

Places Likely Named for Passenger Pigeon within Tennessee:

Pigeon Roost Branch (stream) in Claiborne County, Jackson County

Pigeon Roost Hollow (valley) in Claiborne County

Pigeon Valley Church (church) in Cocke County

Pigeonroost Gap (gap) in Cocke County

Pigeon River (stream) in Cocke County

Pigeonroost Branch (stream) in Cocke County

Pigeonroost Hollow (valley) in Cocke County

Pigeon Ridge Road, Crossville in Cumberland County

Pigeon Roost Creek (stream) in Giles County, Putnam County,

Pigeon Creek (stream) in Greene County

Pigeon Branch (stream) in Greene County, Jackson County, Morgan County,

Pigeon Roost (populated place) in Humphreys County

Pigeon Pint (cape) in Marion County

City of Pigeon Forge in Sevier County

Tennessee Highlights:

At least six archeological sites within Tennessee have yielded passenger pigeon remains. These include Cheek Bend Cave (Pleistocene), Rhoton Cave (Middle  Woodland), Oliver (Late Woodland),  French Lick (Mississippian), and Toqua (Mississippian and Historic Cherokee). The Oliver site proved extraordinarily rich, producing 1,181 passenger pigeon bones.

The most famous landmark in the state is Pigeon Forge, which is partly named after the Little Pigeon River that runs through the town. The Little Pigeon River was originally named by the Cherokee Indians after the considerable roosts of wild pigeons found from time to time along the river banks in the area.  

Davidson County was the scene of several dramatic passenger pigeon events. In 1794, a flight was said to have darkened the sky. A roost in 1807 contained so many birds the trees on which they alit were destroyed. The final roost in the state occurred on White’s Creek, north of Nashville.

In 1936, the Tennessee Ornithological Society’s quarterly journal, The Migrant, published the remarkable memoir of W.R. Manlove. As a boy, he witnessed one of the last flights of the passenger pigeon in Tennessee in the fall of 1870 over his father’s farm in the valley of White Creek, six miles north of Nashville: “The dreamy silence of early morning was broken by the rushing sound as a great column of wild pigeons came flying swiftly up the valley. This column was so wide that it reached almost from range to range of the side hills, a distance of a mile, and so dense as to darken the sun, so that we had to light lamps in the house. As the birds passed directly overhead, the swishing of their wings could be distinctly heard amid the roar of their flight, which was like that of a rushing mighty wind. Hour after they passed, and it was nearly noon when the last swept below the horizon, leaving us gazing after them in astonishment.”

Around the same time, The Migrant also ran an abbreviated version of Harry Ijam’s monograph on the pigeon, originally produced in pamphlet form in 1929.

The specimen at Great Smoky Mountains National Park (not on public display) has an interesting and well documented provenance. It was collected by General Benjamin F. Cheatham, an officer in the Confederate Army, about 1856 near Nashville. He then sold the stuffed bird to Major T. O’Connor after the Civil War. O’Connor later left the bird to his niece, Mrs. F.R. Jones, who sold it as part of a large display of mounted birds in 1928 to H.P. Ijams of Knoxville. In 2007, the curator at the national park sent the bird to Harper’s Ferry for a thorough cleaning and re-mounting.

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

Knoxville: *Ijams Nature Center (Ijams has a permanent Lost Species exhibit focusing on the passenger pigeon and the ivory-billed woodpecker. The female passenger pigeon on display at Ijams is on extended loan from the Frank M. Chapman Museum at the University of Tennessee.)

Knoxville: Frank H. McClung Museum, University of Tennessee has bones from the Tellico Plains site

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Twin Creeks Visitors 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 Tennessee

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 Tennessee. [Schorger-TN.pdf]

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

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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