The Cryptid Zoo: Passenger Pigeon

Like the dodo, the passenger pigeon is one of the world's most famous extinct animals. Its decline was a shock to the world. Passenger pigeons once darkened the skies in such numbers that people who witnessed the sight could hardly believe it. Professional pigeon hunters pursued the flocks everywhere, sending their meat and feathers to be sold in large cities.

These birds wintered in the eastern half of the United States and bred in Canada. They were often on the move, looking for more fodder. Some tales said that trees could crack and fall under the sheer weight of a flock of pigeons, just as a heavy snow can weigh down and break trees.

The last passenger pigeon to be acknowledged as real by the scientific establishment died in 1914. For several decades afterwards, there were many unconfirmed reports of passenger pigeons, especially from isolated locales such as the Ozarks. Even these reports ackowledged that the big flocks were no more. After the big flocks ceased to be, passenger pigeons were reported in small numbers, such as seven at a time.

To students of cryptozoology, there is nothing surprising about these reports. In many cases of animals that have been officially declared extinct, reports continue to come in for at least a couple decades after the extinction date. When you carefully examine the quality of these sightings, it seems likely that at least half of all "extinct" animals persisted for at least a decade after the official extinction date. Sadly, sightings often taper dramatically in both quality and quantity 30-50 years after an animal is declared extinct, lessening any hope that it might still be around today.

The passenger pigeon is in this situation. Because it was such a mobile bird when not nesting, and because it nested in such an isolated region, it would be quite difficult to confirm sightings of it. The bird or small flock would be gone soon after you saw it. The passenger pigeon may have easily persisted in small numbers up to the 1930s or later.

Sadly, there is only a small chance that this bird is still around today. The longer an animal remains officially extinct, the more likely it is to be truly extinct. Even if it is alive, scientists would expect the remaining population to be small and well-hidden.

You can find out more about the Passenger Pigeon from the following sources:

Newton, Michael. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. Pages 365-366, 373
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Randolph, Vance. We Always Lie to Strangers: Tall Tales From the Ozarks. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1974. Pages 96-97

Weidensaul, Scott. The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Pages 17, 123

Wikipedia, The. Passenger Pigeon

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