Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future

PigeonDioramaPassenger pigeon diorama at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia.

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Passenger Pigeons in Your State/Province


PENNSYLVANIA

(Compiled by Bill Whan and Joel Greenberg)

Pennsylvania possessed extensive habitat for both breeding and migrant Passenger Pigeons in their day. Human alterations to that habitat in the eastern part of the state tended to move nineteenth-century pigeon populations, especially breeding ones, farther into the less peopled western reaches of the state. By the time historical nestings were being carefully recorded, they were known mostly from beech forests in eight northwestern counties, although a nest and egg taken in 1880, possibly the last specimens from the state, came from Lancaster County; large nestings were noted 1810, 1830, 1835, 1860, 1861, 1866, 1879, 1874, 1878, 1880, and 1886 (with last nestings in Potter and McKean counties). Many were noted wintering in the state 1875-76 in the Alleghenies. 

Last Records of the Passenger Pigeon:

Their decline later was so rapid as to be insusceptible to research (Todd 1940), with small numbers into the 1890s. Todd offers reports of a flock of ~100 seen in McKean Co in September 1905, and one bird in 1906, and closes by saying "(n)o reputable ornithogist has seen a Passenger Pigeon in this county since 1907 (271)." 

Places Likely Named for the Passenger Pigeon:

Moyamensing—west side of Philadelphia, Native American word for pigeon droppings

Pigeon Hill in Summit County and Potter County

Pigeonroost Gap in Bedford County

Pigeonroost Run in Bedford County

Pigeon Hills in York County

Pigeon Hollow in Cameron County, Lycoming County, McKean County, and Valley County

Pigeon Creek in Chester County, Sullivan County, and Washington County

Pigeon Creek Cemetery in Washington County

Pigeon Creek Church in Washington County

Pigeon Run in Chester County, Forest County, Greene County, Lycoming County, and McKean County

Pigeon in Forest County

Pigeon Hill School in Forest County

Pigeon Hill Church in Forest County

Pigeon Hills School in Franklin County

Pigeon Cove in Fulton County

Pigeon Town in Montgomery County

Pennsylvania Highlights:

Located in Washington County, Meadowcroft Rock Shelter has been used by human beings for at least 16,000 years, giving it a history matched by if any few sites in the country. People did not live there but used it as a resting area, for the rock overhang provided protection from the elements. Sixty feet below flows Cross Creek, a tributary of the Ohio River. It has proved a treasure trove of animal remains, unrivaled by any other North American archeological site. The late John Guilday of the Carnegie Museum wrote of the “thousands of dirt-stained bones of the passenger pigeon . . . , cliff debris concentrated in the Meadowcroft deposits by Indians and hawks preying on the vanished flocks.”  Operated by the Heinz History Center, Meadowcroft has been a National Historic Landmark since 2005. There is a visitors’ center as well as a historic village comprised of a 16th century reconstructed Woodlands Indian Village and a mid-19th century village.

The Pidgeons in such numbers we see fly
That like a cloud they do make dark the sky;
And in such multitudes are sometimes found,
As that they cover both trees and ground:
He that advances near with one good shot
May kill enough to fill both spit and pot.
John Holme, undated but probably from the first few decades of the 1700s and believed to be the first poem known to be written by a Pennsylvanian.

Thomas Ashe, visiting Erie in December 1806 commented on the passenger pigeon’s preference for salt springs: “[D]oves . . . appear to delight in the neighborhood of impregnated springs, and to make them their constant abode. In such situations they are seen in immense numbers, as tame as domestic pigeons, but rendered more interesting by their solitary notes and plaintive melody.” A. H. Wright, Early Records of the Passenger Pigeon, Auk (1910) 28:437

“Mr. William Worrell  . . . recollected when . . . they flew in such immense flocks (in Maple Township, Chester county) that they obscured the rays of the sun. One night they settled in such numbers in Martin’s bottom, that persons who visited them could not hear one another speak, by reason of their strong whirring noise.”  John Fanning Watson, Annals of Philadelphia (1830)

The second book length account of the passenger pigeon ever to be published is William French’s The Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania (1919). French was a school teacher in Coudersport who wrote the volume at the urging of that great patron of Pennsylvania history and conservation, Henry Shoemaker, whose Altoona-based press also published the work. Though the book is hodgepodge of subjects and opinions (and often contradicting one another), there are extraordinary anecdotes relating to the hunting of the species in the state. One of my favorite stories involves the group of hunters who descended upon a nesting one night dressed in top hats.

One of the three monuments to the passenger pigeon was erected- “in the interest of the preservation of wildlife”- near Hanover in 1947 by the Boy Scouts of America. It was badly vandalized over the years and replaced in the 1990s. The new marker is at Codorus State Park where it overlooks Lake Marburg.

Pennsylvania locations known to have Passenger Pigeon skins, mounts, or skeletons:

Lancaster: Franklin and Marshall College (?)

Harrisburg: *Pennsylvania State Museum

Jacobus: *Nixon County Park, York County

Kleinfeltersville: *Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

Latrobe: St. Vincent College (?)

Meadville: Allegheny College (?)

Philadelphia: *Academy of Natural Sciences

Pittsburgh: *Carnegie Museum Natural History

Reading: *Reading Public Museum

Scranton: *Everhart Museum

West Chester: West Chester University (?)

* If an asterisk appears, at least one passenger pigeon is known to be on display; this list is mainly based on Hahn's Where is That Vanished Bird (1963). Please let us know of any changes including additional locations and/or birds on display, name changes of institution, if birds are no longer present, etc.

Read Fascinating Historical Accounts of the Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania

Wisconsin’s A.W. [Bill] Schorger (1884-1972) spent many years researching the history of the Passenger Pigeon, and he summarized his findings in his 1955 book, The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction. At the time of its publication, the book was the most comprehensive account of the species. Schorger did an excellent job summarizing the nearly 10,000 historical records he discovered in libraries and historical societies around the country, but his original research notes contain many additional details.
For the 2014 centennial, Professor Stanley Temple of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has made all Schorger’s handwritten research notes available in digital form. This link will take you to a table that provides details of all the historical records Bill Schorger discovered for Pennsylvania. [Schorger-PA.pdf]

Read Historical Accounts from Shorger's Original Field Notes about the Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania

These sources are newly available on the Passenger Pigeon site (as of January 25, 2014). The links below give access to often-firsthand, eyewitness accounts of pigeons, the table includes a cross reference to the exact page in Schorger’s notes where you can read the full text of the account and find a citation of the original source document. All these historical documents are in PDF format in sizes ranging from 24mb - 60mb. These documents will open in their own window. Use the links below to find the page containing the account you’re interested in exploring further:
Schorger pages 1-329
Schorger pages 330-632
Schorger pages 633-959
Schorger pages 960-1242
Schorger pages 1243-1585
Schorger pages 1586-1890
Schorger pages 1891-2232
Schorger pages 2233-2556

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Your text contributions on passenger pigeons in the U.S. or Canada are welcome. Email your text notes to us. Include: first and last name, and the State or Province you reference in the Subject Line.

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