Passenger Pigeon Sightings from the Birding Community
If you believe that you've seen a living passenger pigeon, then please submit that sighting to HoriconBirds.com via the form included on the Contact page. This page is organized with the most recent sightings first.
In light of my own passenger pigeon sightings, and others' sightings e-mailed to me after I posted my own on the world wide web, I've decided to maintain a page documenting possible passenger pigeon sightings from anyone willing to share them. This sightings page is meant to benefit the birding community, and I'll maintain it because the bird banding lab and other official bird reporting sites don't make room for the possibility of living passenger pigeons.
I haven't scrutinized the sightings here, as that would make birdwatchers critical of themselves and discourage them from sharing what may be valid sightings. Readers can decide for themselves whether any of these sightings indicate a surviving species or not. The range of these sightings is interesting -- Southeastern and Southwestern Pennsylvania, Southern Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Eastern Wyoming (basically, the birds' historic range).
Date of sighting: AUGUST 4th 2016 approx. 5:30 PM
Location of sighting: Back Yard, Southern Chester County Pennsylvania.
Name of birdwatcher: Joe G
What about this bird leads you to believe it was a passenger pigeon and not a mourning dove or other species? Size and color and some mottling marks on bird I've seen on museum specimens and in photos; mourning doves are very common in my yard. I have seen a few larger specimens of mourning doves over the years but no dove that looked anything like this.
Description of sighting: The following are excerpts of the sighting from an email to a bird watching friend sent the day after the sighting:
My yard is a Mourning Dove haven. I've freed dozens of them from my blueberry nets. But yesterday when I stepped out on my deck to look at the garden I noticed a large dark charcoal brown dove/pigeon sitting in my dead sour cherry tree I've been meaning to cut down. The distance was about 40 ft. The bird was at least 25% larger than the average morning dove. I watched it for a minute or 2 and then it puffed it's breast up and it shimmered purplish red with tawny orange undertones. I ran in to get the camera. It's a Leica D-LUX5 with only a 3 power zoom set to 10 MP. Time was 5:30 PM, Thursday 8-4-16. Bird was facing west/northwest into the afternoon sun. I took a few pictures from the deck when it puffed up again and appeared to have down feathers mixed in as if it had just fully fledged recently. It reminded me of the birds in your video. I'm not sending enlargements since you can probably get more out of it if you do it yourself. The bird is roughly center in the pics. The bird got nervous as I tried to get near it on the ground so I turned my back on it walking into the garden to try and get a different angle. When I turned back, it was gone without making a sound (unlike an MD). I have not retouched the photos even though the colors are muted but it does clearly show how dark the bird was. The files are raw so you may want to zoom out before you zoom back in.
Was the bird in the company of other birds or animals? NO.
Do you have a photo of the sighting? Yes. Photos are slightly grainy but attached files are JPEGS. original files are .PNG. Bird is roughly center in photos. I have 3 handy. In PP-3 photo white marks on neck are branch interference and do not show in any other photo or were visible by me at the time of the sighting. Other photos (previously sent) may be available from this website or I can post later but these are 3 of the best. More may be available from previously sent to the website.
NOTE from Pam: Click here for all eight passenger pigeon images, with enlargements and enhancements. I'll post some pictures on this page also, within the next few days (November).
Is there anything else you'd like the birding community to know about this sighting? This may actually be my third up close sighting over roughly 17 years. I was not able to get pictures of the other 2. I was a little unhinged this time and totally not expecting it. Previous up close sightings were in early March 2000 and 2002. For years I had been searching the web for any other alleged sightings.
About 4 or 5 years ago I tracked down a fellow (who the letter above is to) who took a brief grainy video of 2 PP looking birds and was astonished to find out that the video was taken about 5 miles from my home. I believe my photos offer a slightly clearer version of the same colored bird around almost the exact same time of year.
Would you like to share anything about yourself? I have lived on my small farm for 38 years. I work for a large engineering company but all my hobbies are outdoors. I garden heavily. I also fish and hunt when I can. I still consider myself a novice and am a little disturbed by the fact that there are not more photos of even alleged sightings. My property appears to be on some kind of major migration route for all kinds of waterfowl and various bird species. I was starting to doubt what I had seen previously. Since I collect photos on the net and have myself taken of mounted specimens of passenger pigeons my sighting and a mourning dove. actual visual observation appears to be exactly what I have seen in these photos and in actual museums. This is not a mourning dove.
Date of sighting: Likely July 2016
Location of sighting: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Name of birdwatcher: Pam Rotella (the photographer featured here on HoriconBirds.com)
Description of sighting: This wasn't much of a "sighting," and so I'll keep it brief. Early one morning while walking south on Witchduck Road, before the usual traffic noise started, I heard something like a frog croak -- "wreee-wreee, wreee-wreee," though it was more like a sound that a Canada Goose can make than a frog's croak (not with an "e" sound, but in that type of rhythm). I looked toward the noise, expecting to see another flock of Canada Geese, and instead saw the silhouette of a long, thin "mourning dove" flying onto the roof of a school/academy. But croaking isn't something that mourning doves do. As an earlier sighting points out, that's a characteristic of passenger pigeons. And the bird had more the physique of a passenger pigeon than a mourning dove, but the noise/bird were in silhouette and so far away, it isn't as convincing to me as my earlier passenger pigeon sightings.
Date of sighting: 22 May 2016
Location of sighting: Dutchess County, New York
Name of birdwatcher: Brandon
What about this bird leads you to believe it was a passenger pigeon and not a mourning dove or other species? The colors and size. This bird had a rusty but bright red belly and a bluish back with the slightest tint of grey. Also it was larger than a mourning dove. While my friend tried to debunk this by saying that it was a color morph of mourning dove with a reflection of iridescence, I have trouble believing that because of the fact that when I saw this bird at different angles it had the same appearance. Iridescent feathers typically reveal their true colors at the right angle, like the neck feathers of a rock dove.
Description of sighting: I was in the ATM drive through of a bank, and I noticed a bird above me (almost directly) that vaguely resembled a pigeon, but not like any pigeon I have ever seen before. We have rock doves and mourning doves in our area and it wasn't one of those. Then I was riding with my family out of a local bank, when the bird was still sitting on that wire. As soon as I got a good enough look, I noticed it looked a lot like a passenger pigeon (probably male).
Was the bird in the company of other birds or animals? There was a red winged blackbird in the general area but I have seen them before and this one seemed kind of far away from the pigeon (at least a few hundred feet).
Do you have a photo of the sighting? No and I probably couldn't have gotten one because the bird was mostly overhead most of the time and while I could see it in the front I was too far away.
Is there anything else you'd like the birding community to know about this sighting? These little guys are out there and we just don't notice them. I don't think it would be financially or logically easy to wipe out the once most numerous bird on the planet. They are just living in seriously smaller populations and the vast majority of people refuse to believe so. The government requires official sightings which aren't so easy to report (the animal has to be captured and/or killed which defeats the purpose of letting a wild population rejuvenate itself).
Would you like to share anything about yourself? I want to keep myself as anonymous as possible.
Date of sighting: Nov 6, 2015
Location of sighting: Somerset Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania
Name of birdwatcher: Randy
What about this bird leads you to believe it was a passenger pigeon and not a mourning dove or other species? It flew very fast, the shape of it was correct, I'm not a bird watcher, but am a farmer, and have seen birds like this before and never thought to pay attention until I was doing the history of the farm, and noted the name of the watershed we are in is "Pigeon Creek", further research showed that it was so named for the vast number of passenger pigeons that frequented the area in the 1780s and beyond. Our farm was land patented in 1786, and it was described as "on the waters of "Pidgeon Creek", so previous to 1786 it got it's name.
Description of sighting: A pair of them in a young walnut tree near the farmhouse. I walked by and startled them, they were very large pigeons, the sun was behind them, so I saw their shape well. They both quickly flew off, and with such "force" I don't know how else to describe it, they made the branches move by hitting them with their wings. They claim these bird's environment has been destroyed, sure there are probably many times fewer trees now then in the 1700s, but there are still vast expanses here with forest on them. The area they were also known to be in was the plains... I don't believe there were trees there, then or now. The deep gas drilling is in this area, Monday they start a well pad we can't stop, on our farm, I think they are chasing the birds out of the deep woods with their pipelines, etc. There is a greater chance to see them. With the decline of the steel industry in Pittsburgh, we now have Great Blue Herons, Osprey, and Bald Eagles. The environment is cleaner.
Was the bird in the company of other birds or animals? No, just the pair noted.
Do you have a photo of the sighting? No, but I'm now going to carry a camera with me. Cell phone would take too long to open the camera.
Is there anything else you'd like the birding community to know about this sighting? I seriously doubt these are extinct, ever try to shoot every starling, deer, raccoon, groundhog, etc? It can't be done. They are in vastly smaller numbers, but they almost surely still exist.
Would you like to share anything about yourself? I'm the 4th generation at the farm, these birds aren't uncommon here, many other locals see them as well, I wasn't aware they were rare until recently.
Date of sighting: September 17, 2015, aprox 9:00am
Location of sighting: Near the Amtrak station in Glenview, Illinois
Name of birdwatcher: J. Brown
What about this bird leads you to believe it was a passenger pigeon and not a mourning dove or other species? It was larger than a morning dove, long and sleek, with more of a grey back, with chunks mottled like black lines on the lower back and tail. There were two of them one was more orange breasted. The one closest to me had a very pale orange breast and soft orange cheek. The were longer than mourning doves with long tails and it had stripes of white. They were much larger than the robins that were feeding with them. The had that smooth head of a dove with a beak that was thinner and longer than the robins.
Description of sighting: I walked up on a flock of robins feeding in the grass beneath a large tree. I noticed the "dove" near the street and thought it was a mourning dove be then I saw that it had an orange breast. As I got closer, it and it's partner flew to the tree and pecked at it a bit, watching me. They were standing on the side of the tree the way you would see a wood pecker stand.
Was the bird in the company of other birds or animals? They were in a flock of robins
Do you have a photo of the sighting? No, sorry, when I moved closer to take a picture, they flew off. It had back and tail feathers like this picture from the internet: Passenger Pigeon: an Extinct Species but the rest of it looked more like this picture from Wikipedia of the female on the lower right.
Is there anything else you'd like the birding community to know about this sighting? I have never seen a bird like this before in the wild but it was definitely something in the dove/pigeon family.
Would you like to share anything about yourself? I am just a guy walking to work who saw a flock of birds and stopped to look.
Date of sighting: May/2015
Location of sighting: Northern Adair County, IA
Name of birdwatcher: Not specified for publication
What about this bird leads you to believe it was a passenger pigeon and not a mourning dove or other species? It was with a group of mourning doves but was larger than the rest and made a strange croaking noise like a tree frog. It looked similar to a mourning dove, though I am red/green color blind.
Description of sighting: I live in a rural area near a pond with lots of timber to the north of me. I was calling back and forth to mourning doves in my backyard before dusk when I saw it. A former roommate of mine used to raise mourning doves in an aviary and I can call them in using my hands. I called in a group of 4 of them. This one would respond back to my call and sounded like a croaking tree frog. It was flying and then perched in a tree a while before flying off. I saw it again about a week later in a tree by itself while getting out of my car. I went inside to get the camera and when I came back out it was gone. That was the last time I saw it.
Was the bird in the company of other birds or animals? Yes, mourning doves.
Do you have a photo of the sighting? No
Would you like to share anything about yourself? Novice.
Observation from Pam Rotella: This link mentions that passenger pigeons can make a croaking noise. Most people are aware of the enchanting call of the mourning dove, sometimes mistaken for an owl and definitely not a croaking noise.
Date of sighting: Spring 2015 - aprox May
Location of sighting: Back yard - aprox 1/4 acre - very sheltered, bordering on greenbelt from Mt Airy Forest, in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio
Name of birdwatcher: Mike H.
What about this bird leads you to believe it was a passenger pigeon and not a mourning dove or other species? The bird was almost twice the size of mourning doves, and had a definite pigeon's beak. It also sat erect, rather than leaning forward like a dove. After the sighting I went through my books and online trying to figure out what I had seen - unsuccessfully. Then, while I was at the Cincinnati Zoo with some of my grandchildren I saw a picture of 'Martha' - and realized that it was the only bird to closely resemble what I had seen.
Description of sighting: I saw it from my back door - the bird was sitting in a redbud tree perhaps 35 feet away - about eye level, sitting very erect, rather than more 'hunched over' like a mourning dove. Sighting was mid morning, on a sunny day, with the morning sun fully on the bird and behind me. Distance was aprox 35 feet. Bird was sitting quietly, occasionally grooming feathers. Back and wings were gray - lighter on back and shading smoothly to darker on wings, sides, and tail. Breast was not peachy - more of a faded plum color, but with a reddish or orange tinge. Tail was longer that a pigeon tail (I almost never see pigeons in my yard, by the way).Total length was maybe 15 inches.
Was the bird in the company of other birds or animals? No other birds immediately around it - though in the yard were cardinals, finches, red winged blackbirds, nuthatches, chickadees, mourning doves on the ground, and a couple of robins. I noted these because when I first saw it, I thought it might be a hawk - but when hawks appear everything else always scatters.
Do you have a photo of the sighting? No photo - after watching it a minute or so, and showing it to my adult son (yes, he saw it too.) I went to get my camera in the next room. When I came back, the bird was gone.
Is there anything else you'd like the birding community to know about this sighting? Only that I at first hesitated to tell anyone for fear of being written off as balmy.
Would you like to share anything about yourself? Relative novice in birding - but enjoying it. Amateur photographer. Wildlife enthusiast. Also, my backyard is not only secluded, but I have several feeding stations, a water feature I built on the hillside which has a stream flowing down the hill through two small pools into a small pond at the bottom, with the stream bordered by sheltering lily plants and some small bushes. My yard supports about 10 pairs of cardinals, perhaps 6 pairs of blue jays, and a pair of wild mallards who occasionally drop in, as well as huge numbers of doves, cat birds, cow birds, sparrows, wrens, titmice, woodpeckers, and a lot more. I go through about 60 dollars worth of seed, suet, etc a month, with very little waste.
Date of sighting: Spring of 2015 (exact date not known, although it was probably in May)
Location of sighting: On power lines along Highway E, just south of Porterfield, WI, but north of Highway 64, in Marinette County, Wisconsin.
Name of birdwatcher: Pam Rotella (the photographer featured here on HoriconBirds.com)
What about this bird leads you to believe it was a passenger pigeon and not a mourning dove or other species? They definitely had heads like pigeons and looked similar to mourning doves, but their breasts / tummies were too reddish, and their backs were gray with markings seen in old photos and drawings of passenger pigeons. Even the rings around their eyes were visible this time, a feature seen in some old drawings of passenger pigeons -- something they have in common with mourning doves but are hard to see on mourning doves unless they're close and the lighting is perfect. The body shape on both birds was like a passenger pigeon -- similar to a mourning dove's, but in this case thinner in the lower tummy and with a more upright posture.
Description of sighting: I was driving south on Highway E when I noticed what appeared to be 2 (two) passenger pigeons sitting on power lines along the road. The sun was bright and hitting the birds at a slant, even illuminating the birds' eye rings. However, because I couldn't estimate their size, at the time I wrote it off as a natural variety of mourning doves. I didn't attempt to take a picture. On a later date, I was driving down the same street and saw actual mourning doves on those same power lines, and realized that they appeared to be much shorter than the red-breasted "mourning doves" I'd seen on the earlier date. That's when I realized that the other birds weren't mourning doves, but passenger pigeons. Their red tummies and gray backs were a little lighter than the passenger pigeon I'd seen near Ripon, WI during the previous year, but that could be due to natural variation or even differing lighting conditions.
Was the bird in the company of other birds or animals? The two birds looked exactly the same and were sitting together on the power line. There were no other birds sitting near them, although several different species of birds perch on the power lines along Highway E there.
Do you have a photo of the sighting? Unfortunately, no.
Is there anything else you'd like the birding community to know about this sighting? I can only hope that these two were a nesting pair! If so, they may stay in the area for the summer. If anyone else sees them or manages to take a picture, please send in the sighting! Remember to be respectful of the birds if you find yourself in that area this summer.
Also, this is my second sighting of passenger pigeons in very rural areas of Wisconsin. Both this area and the sighting near Ripon were along lightly-traveled roads just a few miles outside of very small towns. Both areas had good access to wooded areas and permanent sources of water. Neither had an interstate freeway nearby. I'm starting to wonder if the birds locate near small towns because they don't like a lot of human activity or car traffic, but mowed lawns provide them with easy access to acorns, their favorite food. And if they don't like their acorns from backyards, they have wooded areas nearby for both food and cover. Perhaps these aren't the preferences of all passenger pigeons, but it is possible that if some survived, these are the habits that kept their ancestors alive.
Would you like to share anything about yourself? I'm a photographer and am always looking for a good picture. If there isn't traffic and a bird catches my eye at the side of the road, I'll look at it, sometimes even pull over in a nearby area to attempt a picture.
Note: This is a link with pictures that looked like the birds I saw in Marinette (which I now assume were two males). In the top picture with multiple birds, the bird 2nd from the top was closest, with lighter shades of red and gray. Also in the next photo down, with the caption that begins with "Specimens":
Date of sighting: The summer of 2014, probably July 26th or 27th because I think it was the weekend before the EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh -- most likely Saturday the 26th
Location of sighting: Near the intersection of Highways KK and E, just southwest of Ripon in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. Note that this is only about a mile down the road from the border with Green Lake County, which is famous as the original home of "Martha," the last known living passenger pigeon.
Name of birdwatcher: Pam Rotella (the photographer featured here on HoriconBirds.com)
What about this bird leads you to believe it was a passenger pigeon and not a mourning dove or other species? (From my article on the sighting) The bird had a pigeon's head and beak, a gray back, and a breast as red as a robin's. He was taller and wider at the shoulders than any mourning dove I'd ever seen, his size approximated by comparison to the swallows next to him. The pigeon also looked more athletic than a dove or other pigeons -- less chubby in the lower tummy, with a slight bird's "cleavage."
Description of sighting: (From my article on the sighting) While driving along a rural 2-lane highway this summer [of 2014], I spotted three swallows sitting on a power line, approached by a very large mourning dove. Because I'm always looking for good pictures, the larger bird caught my eye. The lighting was perfect, slanted but with direct sunlight coming from the other side of my car, illuminating the birds like a spotlight. The dove landed about a foot away from the swallows, and that's when I realized that I wasn't seeing one of the many mourning doves or kestrels in the area, but a living passenger pigeon.
I had my camera with me and wanted that picture, knowing it would be important to have proof of the encounter. I'd also welcome other birders' opinions on what they think the bird is, if not a passenger pigeon. I braked, intending to stop on the shoulder and take pictures through the driver's window. But the large pigeon tilted its head and watched me approach, and then flew off before I could stop the car or raise the camera. The swallows remained on the line, the male with his back toward traffic. That's when I noticed another car coming up quickly behind me. The pigeon had actually been watching two cars approaching, the one behind me making noise and no doubt attracting his attention.
Was the bird in the company of other birds or animals? Yes, swallows -- one of them was definitely a barn swallow because I saw his peachy tummy and pretty teal blue back. Also, all of the birds including the passenger pigeon appeared to have dust or mud on their feathers, although I'm not sure why -- swallows will build their nests using mud, although their food is caught mid-air. Perhaps there was a muddy area nearby, and the pigeon had been looking for acorns or other food there.
Do you have a photo of the sighting? No, the passenger pigeon seemed to tolerate my quieter hybrid car, but then flew away as soon as he heard the car behind me gunning its engine.
Is there anything else you'd like the birding community to know about this sighting? The bird was facing the road, and when leaving launched in that direction. But then it immediately turned around in a very tight area, despite its large size, and flew between two power lines stacked vertically behind the line it had been sitting on. This shows good eyesight and flight skills, matching historical accounts of passenger pigeons' excellent flight skills and other reports I've received about the birds.
Would you like to share anything about yourself? I'm a photographer and birds are one of my favorite subjects -- I'm always looking for that next good picture and probably pay more attention to wildlife than most people.
Date of sighting: Pending permission to post
Location of sighting: Southeastern Pennsylvania
Date of sighting: Pending permission to post
Location of sighting: Eastern Wyoming
Reports and photos © 2015, 2016 by their respective authors/photographers.