The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon

The passenger pigeon, once one of the most abundant birds in the world, was pushed to extinction by overhunting and habitat destruction in 1914 when the world’s last passenger pigeon died. Deforestation after the European colonization contributed to the bird’s extinction. Prior to colonization Native Americans ate the passenger pigeon without harming their continued existence, but the massive commercial consumption of pigeon meat in the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth century led to its demise. Because the pigeons flew in such large flocks, sometimes hundreds of miles long with billions of birds, many could be easily captured at one time. Beginning in the eighteenth century, commercial hunters began shooting pigeons or using nets to capture them to sell them for meat or as live targets for trap hunting. After the trade of the pigeons had been commercialized by the late 1800s, their population diminished significantly until the last known bird died in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

Contributed by Katherine Fadelli
Course: Modern Global Environmental History
Instructor: Dr. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg
University of Wisconsin–Madison, US

Further Readings: 
  • Greenberg, Joel. A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2014.
  • Schorger, A. W. The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955.