Passenger pigeons used to number in the billions. John James Audubon once watched a flock fly overhead for three days—300 million pigeons per hour. That’s a lot of birds. But the problem with there being so many is that they were very easy to hunt. While passenger pigeons were hunted as a crop nuisance for years, it wasn’t until pigeon meat got popular that things took a turn for the worst. It also sure didn’t help that westward-bound settlers were chopping down the birds’ habitat at an alarming pace.Hunters, loss of habitat, and infectious diseases contributed to their eventual extinction.
Efforts to maintain small captive flocks failed, because the birds were used to living in much larger groups. The last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Seven years after the passenger pigeon officially became extinct in the wild, a few were reportedly spotted by a fairly reputable person: US President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1907, while in Albemarle County, the first environmental President—who certainly knew his animal species—claimed he saw a small flock.
Nowadays, someone occasionally sees a bird that looks a lot like a passenger pigeon. Like this rather short video. Small flocks of passenger pigeons are sometimes seen in their old nesting areas, mostly around the Ozark Mountains.