Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius (Linnaeus, 1766)
- RMNH 110.048: male. Locust Grove, New York, 1874. Acquired through: C. Hart Merriam, 7 August 1885.
- RMNH 15707: male. Canada. Acquired through: J. Pop, R.K. Seminarie Rolduc, 27 October 1950.
- RMNH 110.090: male. North America. From: Cabinet Temminck (before 1820).
- RMNH 110.091: female. North America. From: Cabinet Temminck (before 1820).
- RMNH 110.092: male. Philadelphia, May 1862. Collector: Cassin, 1866.
- RMNH 110.093: female. New Jersey, May 1864. Collector: Cassin, 1868.
- RMNH 110.089: female. Rockport, Ohio. Collector: Spencer Baird.
- RMNH 110.085: juvenile, male. North America.
- RMNH 110.086: juvenile, male. Wisconsin, 27 September 1862. Collector: Thure Kumlien.
- RMNH 110.087: juvenile, female. Wisconsin, 26 June 1862. Collector: Thure Kumlien.
- RMNH 110.088: juvenile, female. Wisconsin, 2 June 1862. Collector: Thure Kumlien.
Passenger Pigeons obscured the sky
Anyone who in the early 19th century would have claimed that the Passenger Pigeon would become extinct, must have been branded a fool. This pigeon was once called the most numerous bird in North America. Flocks of Passenger Pigeons searching for food were several kilometers in length and are reported to have obscured the sky. When a flock landed, trees were uprooted under the sheer weight of the birds. Yet, on the first of September 1914, the last Passenger Pigeon died in Cincinnatti Zoo, 14 years after the last bird had been recorded in the wild.
Hunting probably played a major role in the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. Once a hunting competition was organized in which the winner needed over 30.000 of these pigeons to claim his prize. Hundreds of thousands were shot or battered to death. The major decline occurred in the 1870s. Within ten years, flock size dropped dramatically and at the end of the decade only small groups were reported.
Hunting cannot have been the sole cause of its extinction. When the pigeon became less numerous, hunting was no longer rewarding. It has been suggested that the Passenger Pigeon somehow depended on numbers for its survival. As the flocks dwindled in size, it was doomed to disappear.
The Passenger Pigeon is probably the most common extinct bird species in museum collections. More that 1500 skins and skeletons have been preserved. The Leiden Museum possesses 11 specimens, some of which were obtained from the renowned American ornithologists Thure Kumlien and John Cassin.