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(Compiled by Joel Greenberg)
Passenger Pigeons utilized Virginia primarily as a foraging and roosting area. They are known to have nested at least once in Clarendon, Arlington County. Spring, fall, and winter reports came from across most of the state, some of which refer to huge flocks
Last Record of the Passenger Pigeon:
There does not seem to be fully authenticated “last specimen” as there is in many other states. A few birds were evidently killed near Norfolk in January 1892 and a tiny colony reportedly tried to nest in the vicinity of Highgate in the spring of 1893.
Places Likely Named for Passenger Pigeon:
There are at least 14 places in Virginia with pigeon in the name:
Pigeon Top Mountain (rise) in Albemarle County
Pigeon Roost Creek in Brunswick County
Pigeon Branch (stream) in Buchanan County, Giles County.
Pigeon Hill (rise) in Clarke County
Pigeon Hill (town) in Essex County
Pigeon Roost Branch (stream) in Dickenson County
Pigeon Run (stream) in Spotsylvania County
Pigeon Roost Swamp (stream) in Surry County
Pigeon Swamp (stream) in Sussex County
Pigeon Creek (stream) in Wise County, Lynchburg County
Pigeon Hill Redoubt (historical- military) in York County
Pigeon Quarter (rise) in York County
A kind of wood pidgion we see in the wintertime and of them such numbers, as, I should Drawe . . . the Creditt of my relation concerning all the other in question, yf I should expresse what extended Flockes and how manie Thowsandes in one flock I have sene in one Daie wondring at their flight, when like so manie thickned Clowdes, they retourne againe more so-wardly towards night to their Rouust, but there be many hundred witnesses, who may convince this my report yf testefith an untruithe. William Strachey, The first Booke of the historie of Travaile into Virginia, 1622.
All contemporary observers declare that the number of these birds appearing at these times was far beyond the power of human calculation; that for hours they darkened the sky like a pall of thunder clouds; and they broke down the limbs of the forest wherever an entire flock lighted in search of food. Philip Bruce, Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, 1907.
The men’s mouths watered at the sight of a prodigious flight of wild pigeons which flew high over our heads to the southward. . .In their travels they make vast havoc amongst the acorns and berries of all sorts, that they waster whole forests in a short time, and leave a famine behind them for most other creatures. William Byrd, 1728
Virginia Locations Known to Have Passenger Pigeon Skins, Mounts, and or Skeletons:
It seems likely that passenger pigeons are represented in state collections but I know of none.
Read Fascinating Historical Accounts of the Passenger Pigeon in Virginia
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 Virginia. [Schorger-VA.pdf]
Read Historical Accounts from Shorger's Original Field Notes about the Passenger Pigeon in Virginia
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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