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100 years ago today, Martha, the last Passenger pigeon in the world died.

To mark the hundredth anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon I would like to provide some excerpts from Project Passenger Pigeon. Please visit their website and their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ProjectPassengerPigeon to read their message and help in the fight against species extinction.

Passenger Pigeons Were Unlike Any Other Bird in the World in at Least Three Important Ways
The Passenger Pigeon was a bird solely of North America, with the vast majority inhabiting a region from the Gulf States to Hudson’s Bay, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the upper Missouri River. Three things made them unique in all the world:

  1. they were the most abundant bird of the continent, if not the world: no one knows for sure how many there were but the most careful figure offered ranges from a low of three billion to a high of five billion individuals;
  2. they aggregated in numbers that darkened the sky for as much as three days: individual flights might have exceeded two billion birds; and
  3.  in literally decades, human actions reduced this incredible bounty to zero, when on September 1, 1914, the last of the species died. Given that it is extinct, very little was known about its relationships to other birds until recently.



“Passenger Pigeon wood carving by Mike Ford, on display at Chippewa Nature Center, Midland, MI.

“No photograph of a living passenger pigeon in the wild has yet been found.”

- Photo and excerpt from: http://passengerpigeon.org/differentpigeon.html




Mission Statement of Project Passenger Pigeon

2014 marks the centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. Numbering in the billions in 1800, the last bird died on September 1, 1914; driven to extinction by human activity.

Project Passenger Pigeon is an international effort to commemorate this anniversary and use it not only as an opportunity to familiarize people with this remarkable species, but also to raise awareness of current issues related to human-caused extinction, explore connections between humans and the natural world, and inspire people to become more involved in building a sustainable relationship with other species.


How Everyone Can Get Involved

Project Passenger Pigeon is about reaching as many people as possible in our efforts to tell the compelling story of the passenger pigeon and to present current issues related to extinction, the relationship of people to nature, and how we can proceed in a more sustainable way.

To help bring that about, the Project has created, and is in the process of creating, a wide range of scientifically and historically accurate media resources that will make it easy for organizations to participate in this effort.


It is said that pigeons live on average to be about 10-15 years old. I believe this is for captive or racing pigeons. The average feral pigeon living in the wild would most likely have a reduced lifespan since they have no one to care for them against the elements, disease and predators.

The oldest recorded pigeon (that I could find info about) was a red checker cock called Kaiser. He was born in 1917 and died in 1949 at the age of 32 ½. Kaiser was in fact a German war pigeon who was captured by the Americans in 1918 and used by them for breeding.

Kaiser, WWI Captured German War Pigeon:

  • “Kaiser” 1917-1949
  • Band # 17-47-0-350
  • Red Checker Cock
  • Bred and trained by the German Imperial Crown
  • Captured by the Americans in 1918 during the Meuse Argonne offensive
  • Assigned to the US army signal corps, Fort Monmouth, N.J and Camp Crowder, MO.
  • Handled by Col. Clifford Algy Poutre from 1936-1943
  • Kaiser lived for 32½ years
  • Specialty: outstanding breeder

This photo of Kaiser was taken in 1938, US Army Signal Corps Lofts, Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Martha – the last passenger pigeon:

The second oldest pigeon was Martha, the last passenger pigeon. She hatched in a zoo in 1885 and died in 1914, aged 29. The sad and poignant story of the now extinct passanger pigeon species can be read here: In Memory of Martha

A live passenger pigeon in 1898 (Note: I don't know if this is Martha)


By Wilson P. Dizard
Published in The New York Times, February 24, 1946

Technically, Kaiser could be called a traitor to the Imperial Crown of Germany. A soldier of fortune, he has served under two flags in two international wars. This may seem surprising when one considers that Kaiser is 29 years old and that his kind has always been regarded as a symbol of peace. But Kaiser carries no olive branch in his bill-he’s a Regular Army Flier, assigned to the United States Signal Corps, and the oldest pigeon known to history.

Kaiser was hatched in Germany in February, 1917, and was trained as a military homing pigeon for the German Army. The famous bird was captured when the Yanks stormed an enemy front-line trench during the Meuse offensive in 1918. He was brought to this country and assigned to the Signal Corps Pigeon Center, Fort Monmouth, N.J., until August, 1942, at which time he was transferred to Camp Crowder, Mo., the Army’s pigeon-breeding center.

In terms of human ages, Kaiser is a cool 140 years old-the normal life span of a pigeon being from 5 to 8 years. Despite his advanced age, Kaiser has continued to father large groups of homing pigeons. He astounded his keepers and pigeon breeders all over the country last year by fathering seven youngsters. The breeders shook their heads and said that because of Kaiser’s age his youngsters would be useless as military homing pigeons. They took it all back when one of them, Little Caesar, won a 320-mile race from Dallas to Camp Crowder in competition with some of the best birds in the Army.

There is no logical explanation for the Kaiser’s hardiness except for the fact that he lives under ideal conditions at the Crowder lofts. He and the latest of his many mates, Lady Belle, live alone in a white loft away from the other loft buildings. The only difference between their loft and those of the other pigeons is that Kaiser and Lady Belle have an electric heater-a small concession to Kaiser’s old age.

Although a “member” of the United States Army, Kaiser still wears a seamless aluminum identification band on his left leg, bearing the seal of the German Imperial Crown. This band was placed there by his German keepers when he was a week old, and it cannot be removed unless cut from the leg.

(From: http://pigeonsincombat.com/thepigeoneerswebpage.html)

There are currently around 318 species of pigeons and doves in the world. Many are threatened with extinction and already many species are extinct. 

There are two websites I would like to highlight.

The first is called The Sixth Extinction, a website about the current biodiversity crisis, which is an educational site highlighting the plight of many species and aiming to bring this to the attention of the public. With more people aware of the problem then maybe more people will help (in ways explained in: Stop Extinction! How Can You Help?). The site also contains lists of globally extinct animals (and the list of birds: Globally Extinct: Birds).

It is so scary and very sad how quickly animals are disappearing – many without anyone even knowning anything about them – they are gone before discovery! Awareness of the problem is the first step, with Action a quick second.

The second website is called Columbidae Conservation, a UK based charity working towards the conservation of pigeons and doves, as well as their habitat, around the world.

The site contains news about conservation efforts, as well as publications on scientific studies (e.g. ecological, behavioural) about different pigeon species.

The following map from the website shows the distribution of pigeons and doves (click on the maps to make them bigger):

And the distribution of extinct and vulnerable species:

More about the above maps at: http://www.columbidae.org.uk/Columbidae%20Conservation%20index.html

I found various sites that have lists of extinct pigeons, however, none seemed to have the same amount of species, so please don’t treat the following list as gospel – it’s just what I’ve put together from the various sites:

Extinct pigeon and dove species

  1. Bonin Wood Pigeon Columba versicolor
  2. Dodo Raphus cucullatus
  3. Huahine Cuckoo-dove Macropygia arevarevauupa
  4. Liverpool Pigeon Caloenas maculata
  5. Mauritius Blue Pigeon Alectroenas nitidissima
  6. Norfolk Island Ground-dove Gallicolumba norfolciensis
  7. Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius
  8. Red-moustached Fruit-dove Ptilinopus mercierii
  9. Réunion Pigeon Columba duboisi
  10. Rodrigues Pigeon Alectroenas rodericana
  11. Rodrigues Solitaire Pezophaps solitaria
  12. Ryukyu Pigeon Columba jouyi
  13. Solomon Island Crowned Pigeon Microgoura meeki
  14. St. Helena Dove Dysmoropelia dekarchiskos
  15. Tanna Ground-dove Gallicolumba ferruginea
  16. Thick-billed Ground Dove Gallicolumba salamonis


  1. Lord Howe White-throated Pigeon Columba vitiensis godmanae
  2. Madeiran Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus maderensis
  3. Norfolk Island Pigeon Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae spadicea

Another dove/pigeon species threatened with extinction. I do hope they succeed in reintroducing them back into the wild, however, their habitat needs to be restored and protected in order for them to be successful. I wish them all the best with their efforts!

A very pretty dove species!

ZSL London Zoo successfully breeds ‘extinct’ Mexican dove

Monday 30 October 2006

Bird keepers at ZSL London Zoo are delighted to have bred a dove that died out in the wild three decades ago. It’s a first for the zoo and keepers hope it will mark a change in fortunes for the beleaguered bird.

Socorro DoveThe Socorro dove (Zenaida graysoni) has been extinct in the wild for more than 30 years, and was last sighted in its natural habitat in 1972. Endemic to Socorro in the Revillagigedo Islands, 600 miles off the western coast of Mexico, there are now thought to be less than 100 in captivity and successful breeding is vital to a plan to reintroduce them to the wild.

Zoo keepers have named the new dove Arnie, in reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous catchphrase “I’ll be back”, because they hope that that successful captive breeding will mean Socorro doves could soon be back in the wild. As part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) breeding programme working towards reintroduction, Arnie’s descendants could end up living back in the forests of Socorro.

Socorro doves died out after falling prey to a rising number of feral cats in the area, populations of which have now begun to be brought under control. Overgrazing sheep also destroyed much of their forest floor habitat and the birds were also hunted by humans for food. Work is already underway to eradicate both sheep and cats from the island completely before reintroduction.

The Zoological Society of London’s Curator of Birds, John Ellis, said: “This is an enormous success for ZSL London Zoo and a real tribute to the hard work and expertise of our keepers. I would like to think that this captive breeding success marks a change in the fortunes of the Socorro dove and we are delighted to be playing our part in the reintroduction programme.”

The Socorro Dove is officially listed as extinct in the wild on the IUCN red list of threatened species.

The dove is not the only species categorised as extinct in the wild held in the collection at ZSL London Zoo. Partula snails from the south Pacific islands are also held here as part of a captive breeding and reintroduction programme. ZSL released the first captive-bred partulas into an area protected from the carnivorous rosy wolf snail on the island of Moorea in August 1994. The rosy wolf snail was an introduced species that predated on partula snails.

From: http://www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo//news/london-zoo-successfully-breeds-extinct-mexican-dove,314,NS.html

And another article:

Plan to save bird extinct in wild

Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Socorro dove chick

Edinburgh Zoo has produced 11 Socorro chicks in its breeding programme

Edinburgh Zoo has joined forces with Paignton Zoo in Devon and zoos abroad in a bid to save a bird that has been extinct in the wild for 30 years.

The Socorro dove, which originates from Socorro Island off Mexico, died out in the wild in the 1970s as a result of human disturbance and habitat loss.

Several were held in private collections and breeding pairs were formed to sustain the population.

Edinburgh Zoo has produced 11 chicks to date.

Socorro dove

In the next stage of the reintroduction, five birds from Edinburgh Zoo and seven birds from Paignton Zoo were flown to California in October and have now been transferred to Albuquerque Zoo in New Mexico.

The birds will form a satellite population outside Europe and their offspring could be the first Socorro doves to be seen on their ancestral home.

Edinburgh Zoo’s head bird keeper Colin Oulton said: “The Socorro Dove Project demonstrates how the zoo world and conservation community can work closely with each other to bring species back from the brink of extinction.

“It’s further evidence of the increasing role that zoos like Edinburgh and Paignton can play in saving species from disappearing off the face of the planet.

“The glimmer of hope held by all involved in the Socorro Dove Project is that this little brown dove will once again be found on its ancestral island, and that glimmer just got a bit brighter.

“Breeding Socorro doves can be tricky as the males are notoriously aggressive in their pursuit of mates.”

Paignton Zoo curator of birds Jo Gregson said: “This project shows how conservationists around the world work together.

“It’s important that we try to save every single threatened species, not just the well-known charismatic ones. Every species has the right to survive.”

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/7750390.stm

Did you know that the Dodo was a close relative of modern pigeons? I didn’t.

I guess the two most famous extinct birds in the world are the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon. Reading about their extinction is interesting but also greatly upseting. Not just because of what happened to these birds but because it is still happening to other species around the world.

The Mauritius Pink Pigeon was on the brink of extinction with only 10 left in the wild by 1991, however, with the conservation efforts of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust there are now about 350 Pink Pigeons living in the wild in Mauritius. Read more at: http://www.durrell.org/Animals/Birds/Mauritius-Pink-Pigeon/

It will be a great shame to loose any more pigeons species. There are so many wonderful different pigeons out there and here’s some photos of them: http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/Sampler3-PigeonsDoves.htm

To read up on the Passenger Pigeon go to these websites:

For the Dodo: