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Doves and Pigeons

Doves and Pigeons General

Doves and Pigeons General

Doves and pigeons are represented by close to 300 species, including the mourning dove and the once abundant, but now extinct passenger pigeon, which has been one of the most important game bird in some cultures of eastern central North America.

Passenger Pigeon

The Onondaga (Iroquois), Ontario First Nations, Montagnais (Innu) of the St. Lawrence and Rappahannock are reported to have eaten passenger pigeon [1-3]. Passenger pigeon was one of the most important game birds hunted in eastern Canada and the United States. Every spring, cultures including the Onondaga and Cornplanter Seneca would gather to collect young pigeons from their nesting grounds in the forest. This important social event yielded many pigeons. Some birds were taken from the nests, and most were killed as squabs. Women would use long poles to knock fledglings out of their nests. Blunt arrows were also used to shoot the young pigeons. Sometimes, trees were chopped down with axes to knock out pigeon nests and collect the young; nets were also used, however this was a less efficient method. The Cayuga and Ojibwa (Anishinabek) were also known to hunt pigeons with nets. Because passenger pigeons congregate in colonies, hunters could capture more birds than their immediate needs and thus save them for leaner times [4]. Passenger pigeons were plentiful for the Micmac in late spring and summer, and those that were plump from feeding on nuts were enjoyed most [5, 6]. Passenger pigeon was netted and shot in abundance by the Western Abenaki in autumn [7]. The Ojibway (Anishinabek) of Michigan would trap passenger pigeons in spring, when the birds migrated south. Pigeons were trapped in boxes made of branches and twigs [8]. Passenger pigeons were abundantly available to Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures of the Mississippi and Ohio valleys as well as the Great Lakes [9, 10].

The Chippewa boiled pigeons, and other wild birds, with wild rice or potatoes and meat [11]. The Ojibway of Michigan would add passenger pigeon to stews and soups for flavouring [8]. Several cultures in eastern Canada and the United States are reported to have eaten passenger pigeon with vegetables. The bird was also consumed after being eviscerated, smoked and dried by the fire. The bird fat was collected and stored for later use and could be spread on bread or other food items [4].

Beliefs and taboos

A legend of a passenger pigeon hunt recounts a man with only one bullet. To increase his luck, he shot at a branch covered with pigeons. The lucky shot managed to split the branch right down the middle, trapping the feet of fifty pigeons. He returned home a happy man and was said to have had “aplenty to eat” [3].

Among the Delaware, Dakota and other cultures, no man was allowed to harm an adult pigeon, for fear that this would frighten the birds away permanently, thus eliminating a valuable source of food [4]. Among the Winnebago, the chief would invite whole communities to feast on pigeon. The Seneca had pigeon dances and presented offerings to the nesting sites in hopes of attracting many birds for feasting [4].

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves were hunted and eaten by some cultures, including the Gulf of Georgia Salish [12] and the Iroquois [9].


1.         Tuck JA: Onondaga Iroquois PreHistory: A Study in Settlement Archaeology, vol. 1st edition. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press; 1971.

2.         Rogers ES: Aboriginal Ontario: historical perspectives on the First Nations. Toronto: Dundurn Press; 1994.

3.         Speck FG, Hassrick RB, Carpenter ES: Rappahannock Taking Devices: Traps, Hunting and Fishing. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Anthropological Society; 1946.

4.         Olsen SL: Animals in American Indian Life: An Overview. In: Stars Above, Earth Below American Indians and Nature. edn. Edited by Bol MC. Dublin: Roberts Rinehart Publishers; 1998: 95-118.

5.         Speck FG, Dexter RW: Utilization of animals and plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 1951, 41(8):250-259.

6.         Stoddard NB: Micmac Foods, vol. re-printed from the Journal of Education February 1966. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Halifax Natural Science Museum; 1970.

7.         Trigger BG (ed.): Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15: Northeast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1978.

8.         Clifton JA, Cornell GL, McClurken JM: People of The Three Fires: The Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibway of Michigan. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Grand Rapids Inter-Tribal Council; 1986.

9.         Waugh FW. In: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation. edn. Ottawa: Department of Mines. Government Printing Bureau; 1973.

10.       Hughes JD: Forest Indians: the holy occupation. Environ 1977, NO. 1:2-13.

11.       Densmore F: Food. In: Chippewa Customs. edn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press; 1979: 39-43.

12.       Barrett HG: Gulf of Georgia Salish: University of California; 1939.

Doves and Pigeons General

Doves and Pigeons General

Doves and pigeons are members of a large family of small to medium-sized birds with small heads, short bills and legs, and most often grayish or tan in colour with some iridescent patches [1]. In North America, one well-known pigeon species is the once abundant, but now extinct Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) and species of dove include the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura).

Passenger Pigeon

The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was once abundant and widespread throughout eastern deciduous forest of North America, east from the Rocky Mountains. They became extinct within 30 years at the end of the 19th century from habitat loss and overharvesting. Passenger Pigeons were in the same family as and most closely resembled the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura), but were more colourful, including tones from reddish orange to bluish gray, and were larger, weighing over 250 g. They had a long tail and bright orange eyes. They nested in large colonies and occurred in massive flocks, often with many hundreds of millions of birds. They depended greatly on tree seeds for food, but also ate fruits, berries, and invertebrates [2]. 

Mourning Dove

The Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) is in the same family as pigeons and occurs throughout most of North America, south from the Canadian Prairies. They are mostly grayish tan in colour with black spots on the top of the wing and behind the eyes and have a long pointed tail with a white outline, a dark bill, black eyes, and pinkish feet. They often occur in large flocks of thousands of birds, but defend nesting territories during the breeding season [3].


1.         Sibley D: The Sibley guide to bird life and behavior. New York, NY, USA: Alfred A. Knopf; 2001.

2.         Blockstein DE: Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.

3.         Otis DL, Schulz JH, Miller D, Mirarchi RE, Baskett TS: Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2008.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Passenger Pigeon
© Patrick Coin
Supplier: Flickr: EOL Images
Photographer: Patrick Coin
Mourning Dove
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons