Passenger pigeon

Once there were between 3 and 5 billion passenger pigeon, making this one of the world’s most abundant birds. Yet over a period of just 400 years they were hunted to extinction by humans. The last bird, named Martha, died in 1914 at Cincinnati Zoo. It is hard to believe that such a common species could disappear forever.

The bird’s common name relates to its migratory habits and comes from the French word passager, meaning ‘passing by’. Passenger pigeon flew in flocks several kilometres wide and so dense that they darkened the sky, but this made them easy to capture. In January 1565 the French explorer René Laudonnière wrote of killing close to 10,000 passenger pigeon around Fort Caroline in a matter of weeks.

Lieutenant George Peard RN collected this pair from 1825 during his time aboard HMS Blossom which explored the Bering Strait. George Tradescant Lay was the official naturalist on this voyage and may have advised Peard on specimens to acquire.

Object Summary

Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
Collection Area Region
North America
Collector Excavator
Peard, Lieutenant George
Common Name
passenger pigeon
Simple Name
Period Classification
William IV (1830-1837)

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COLUMBIDAE: Ectopistes migratorius (Linnaeus): passenger pigeon