Source: Erica Lyn Schmidt

Source: Erica Lyn Schmidt

Throughout the 19th century, there were billions of passenger pigeons, with the largest population of birds in North America. Their extinction has been one of the most iconic extinctions. How did passenger pigeons go extinct even though there were billions upon billions of the species and should passenger pigeons be brought back into North America after being extinct for a century?

In 1871, there were 136 million breeding adults of passenger pigeons in their communal nesting site of Wisconsin’s sandy oak barrens. Nesting birds typically took over entire forests as well. Sometimes, it would take hours for passenger pigeons to pass through a city. By the mid-1890s, passenger pigeons size reduced to dozens rather than billions. On September 1, 1914, the last passenger pigeon named Martha died.

The disappearance of the passenger pigeon in the late 19th century in North America was due to the exploitation of the species through hunting, urban consumers demanding the pigeon’s protein and destroying their nesting grounds along with deforestation.

Passenger pigeons were killed faster than they can reproduce, which resulted in their extinction.


Passenger pigeons were tasty with a large quantity of protein. They ate crops, which angered farmers and resulted people to hunt the pigeons. Since the passenger pigeons traveled in huge flocks, they were easy to hunt. With cruel force, they would shoot the pigeons and trap them with nets, set fire to their roosts, and asphyxiate them with burning sulfur. Passenger pigeons would also be attacked with rakes, pitchforks, and potatoes. Since their main source of food were crops grown by farmers, farmers would poison them with whiskey-soaked corn. Hunters would disrupt passenger pigeons nesting grounds, which resulted in killing many adult pigeons, and harvesting the squabs.

With the extinction of the passenger pigeon, there was contemporary environmentalism. Congress passed the Lacey Act, along with the Weeks-McLean Act in 1913, and five years later, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protected not just birds but also their eggs, nests, and feathers.

With the most controversy, the 2012 Long Now Foundation president Stewart Brand and genetics entrepreneur Ryan Phelen co-founded Revive & Restore, a project that plans to use the tools of molecular biology to resurrect extinct animals. They hope to start with the passenger pigeon by using a band-tailed pigeons and changing its genome to make it as close to the genetic code of the passenger pigeon. Some researchers believe that the reintroduction could support populations of the passenger pigeons in forests, while others do not believe this. People against de-extinction believe that forests could not safely support them because ecosystems have changed in the span of a century.