email a friend
printable version
Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species was formerly distributed across North America, but is now Extinct as a result of habitat clearance and hunting. The last reliable wild record dates from 1900, and a search beginning in 1910 failed to find it.

Taxonomic source(s)
Brooks, T. 2000. Extinct species. In: BirdLife International (ed.), Threatened birds of the world, pp. 701-708. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, U.K.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Distribution and population
Ectopistes migratorius was found forest in eastern and central Canada and the USA, occasionally wandering south to Mexico and Cuba. Over the 19th century, the species crashed from being one of the most abundant birds in the world to extinction (Schorger 1955). The last wild bird was shot in 1900, and surveys in 1910-1911 failed to record any (Blockstein and Tordoff 1985). The last captive bird died in 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo (Wilcove 1989).

It was a nomadic species, breeding and foraging in vast flocks millions of birds strong. It exploited seasonally available crops of beechmast, acorns and chestnuts; scouting for food sources and infomation sharing was likely to have required flocks of a certain critical size, below which survival would be compromised. Birds nested in April or May in vast colonies typically 16 by 5 km in size.

The precise cause of its extinction is difficult to determine, but the widespread clearance of the hardwood trees which provided its mast food, and the proliferation of the rail network and telegraph system which enabled efficient location of nesting colonies and the transport of young birds to market are probably the two single most important factors. Other important factors were excessive shooting, Newcastle disease, and towards the last of their years, the breakdown of social facilitation (Halliday 1980, Blockstein and Tordoff 1985, Bucher 1992).

Blockstein, D. E.; Tordoff, H. B. 1985. Gone forever: a contemporary look at the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. American Birds 39(5): 845-851.

Bucher, E. H. 1992. The causes of extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. Current Ornithology 9: 1-36.

Halliday, T. R. 1980. The extintion of the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius and its relevance to contemporary conservation. Biological Conservation 17: 157-167.

Schorger, A. W. 1955. The Passenger Pigeon: its natural history and extinction. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, USA.

Wilcove, D. 1989. In memory of Martha and her kind. Audubon 91: 52-55.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Brooks, T., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Ectopistes migratorius. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Extinct
Family Columbidae (Pigeons, Doves)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1766)
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species