passenger pigeon

passenger pigeon
an extinct pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, once found in great numbers in North America, noted for its sustained migratory flights.
[1795-1805, Amer.]

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Extinct species (Ectopistes migratorius) of pigeon (subfamily Columbinae, family Columbidae).

Passenger pigeons were about 13 in. (32 cm) long and had a long pointed tail; the male was pinkish, with a blue-gray head. Billions inhabited eastern North America in the early 19th century; migrating flocks darkened the skies for days at a time. Gunners began to slaughter them in huge numbers for shipping by railway carloads for sale in city meat markets. Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, died in 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo. The bird's extinction was largely responsible for ending the marketing of game birds and gave major impetus to the conservation movement.

Passenger pigeon, mounted (Ectopistes migratorius)

Bill Reasons
The National Audubon Society Collection/Photo Researchers

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 migratory bird hunted to extinction by man. Billions of these birds inhabited eastern North America in the early 1800s; migrating flocks darkened the skies for days. As settlers pressed westward, however, passenger pigeons were slaughtered by the million yearly and shipped by railway carloads for sale in city markets. From 1870 the decline of the species became precipitous, and it became officially classified as extinct when the last known representative died on Sept. 1, 1914, in the Cincinnati (Ohio) Zoo.

 The passenger pigeon resembled the mourning dove and the Old World turtledove but was bigger (32 centimetres [about 13 inches]), with a longer pointed tail. The male had a pinkish body and blue-gray head. A single white egg was laid in a flimsy nest of twigs; more than 100 nests might occupy a single tree. The natural enemies of the passenger pigeon were hawks, owls, weasels, skunks, and arboreal snakes.

      The pigeon sometimes foraged in newly planted grainfields but otherwise did little damage to crops. Its greatest legacy to man was the impetus its extinction gave to the conservation movement. A monument to the passenger pigeon, in Wisconsin's Wyalusing State Park, declares: “This species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.”

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Universalium. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Passenger Pigeon — Live Passenger Pigeon in 1898 Conservation status …   Wikipedia

  • passenger pigeon — (Zo[ o]l.), A once common wild pigeon of North America ({Ectopistes migratorius}), now extinct. It was so called on account of its extensive migrations. Note: The passenger pigeon presents a striking example of how dramatic a negative influence… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • passenger pigeon — ☆ passenger pigeon n. a variety of North American pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) with a narrow tail longer than its wings: formerly abundant, but extinct since 1914 …   English World dictionary

  • passenger-pigeon — passˈenger pigeon noun An extinct N American pigeon that flew in vast numbers in search of food • • • Main Entry: ↑passenger …   Useful english dictionary

  • passenger pigeon — noun gregarious North American migratory pigeon now extinct • Syn: ↑Ectopistes migratorius • Hypernyms: ↑pigeon • Member Holonyms: ↑Ectopistes, ↑genus Ectopistes …   Useful english dictionary

  • passenger pigeon — noun Date: 1802 an extinct but formerly abundant North American migratory pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • passenger pigeon — extinct species of migratory pigeon that once inhabited all areas of North America …   English contemporary dictionary

  • passenger pigeon — noun a migratory long tailed North American pigeon, hunted to extinction by 1914. [Ectopistes migratorius.] …   English new terms dictionary

  • passenger pigeon — pas′senger pi geon n. orn a North American pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, that once nested in great numbers in hardwood forests: extinct since 1914 • Etymology: 1795–1805, amer …   From formal English to slang

  • passenger pigeon — /ˈpæsəndʒə pɪdʒən/ (say pasuhnjuh pijuhn) noun a species of wild pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, once the most common bird in North America but reduced to extinction in the 19th century. {French passager to pass by (with reference to its… …  

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