Justification of Red List Category
This species was formerly distributed across North America, but is now Extinct as a result of habitat clearance and hunting. The last reliable wild record dates from 1900, and a search beginning in 1910 failed to find it.
Ectopistes migratorius was found in forest in eastern and central Canada and the USA, occasionally wandering south to Mexico and Cuba. Over the 19th century, the species crashed from being one of the most abundant birds in the world to extinction (Schorger 1955). The last wild bird was shot in 1900, and surveys in 1910-1911 failed to record any (Blockstein and Tordoff 1985). The last captive bird died in 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo (Wilcove 1989).
It was a nomadic species, breeding and foraging in vast flocks millions of birds strong. It exploited seasonally available crops of beechmast, acorns and chestnuts; scouting for food sources and infomation sharing was likely to have required flocks of a certain critical size, below which survival would be compromised. Birds nested in April or May in vast colonies typically 16 by 5 km in size.
The precise cause of its extinction is difficult to determine, but the widespread clearance of the hardwood trees which provided its mast food, and the proliferation of the rail network and telegraph system which enabled efficient location of nesting colonies and the transport of young birds to market are probably the two single most important factors. Other important factors were excessive shooting, Newcastle disease, and towards the last of their years, the breakdown of social facilitation (Halliday 1980, Blockstein and Tordoff 1985, Bucher 1992).
Text account compilers
Martin, R., Hermes, C., Khwaja, N., Brooks, T., Mahood, S.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Ectopistes migratorius. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/02/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 06/02/2023.