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The passenger pigeon

Passenger pigeon Fact file

Name: Passenger pigeon
Status: Extinct

Habitat: Passenger pigeons were once found in huge numbers across North America.

Description: Looks rather like the common pigeons you see in the street every day.

Reasons for extinction:
In the 17th and 18th centuries passenger pigeons were everywhere - they were so common that when they began to migrate they blackened the skies - blocking out the sun for hours or even whole days! They were probably the most common bird on the whole planet until about 300 years ago. But, by 1912, rewards were being given to people who could find any evidence of these birds living in the wild. The last bird, called 'Martha', died in a zoo in 1914.
How could this happen? Well, they were hunted - but it wasn't just hunting that caused their extinction. You see, the passenger pigeon needed to nest and raise their chicks around lots of other pigeons. So, when their numbers began to decline because of hunting, they became unable to breed properly. This made the population fragile, and when humans hunted them further, shooting and trapping them, they managed to exterminate the entire species.

Image bank - click on the pictures for more information.
The image of Martha (top row, centre) © 1993 Smithsonian Institution

Passenger pigeon Martha, the last passenger pigeon Carolina parakeet
Crowned pigeon Rock dove Dodo model

Find out more:
All you need to know about passenger pigeons
Passenger pigeon fact file
Learn more about Martha
Learn more about other extinct birds
Print out your own passenger pigeon image page (PDF, 102Kb)

Find out about the extinct and endangered animals in the Museum.

Hilda the hippo Dodo
Blue whale
Golden toad
Giant panda
Passenger pigeon
Schaus' swallowtail

Go to the Homepage to find out about hippos and the causes of extinction.