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Passenger Pigeon
Ectopistes migratorius
Order
COLUMBIFORMES
– Family
COLUMBIDAE
Authors: Blockstein, David E.

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Sounds

Vocalizations

Development

No information. Presumably developed in relation to sexual maturity. No evidence of song-learning in any columbid; vocalizations appear to be innate and specific to the species (Goodwin 1983).

Vocal Array

Many descriptions of the near-deafening noise that came from nesting colonies, but the only scientific descriptions come from aviary birds in 1903 (Craig 1911). The flock included 1 mated pair, 2 males “mated” with doves of other species, and a few unmated birds. As there was no successful breeding, there is no assurance that the full vocal repertoire was ever described. Generally a harsh, loud, unmusical voice, presumably adapted to the noise caused by so many birds in proximity, in contrast to soft, musical tones of noncolonial species of columbids. Craig (1911) described 5 vocalizations:

(1) A loud, harsh, unmusical “ keck . . . . generally given singly, sometimes ≥2 in succession with but short pause between.” Unlike the sound of any other pigeon, apparently used to get attention, like a “loud shout.” Rather high-pitched, “so far as it can be said to have any pitch at all (Craig 1918: 418).” The keck was often followed by other notes such as the coo .

(2) “Scolding, chattering, and clucking (Craig 1911: 418)” were the widely variable most frequent and characteristic vocalization. Described variously as “ kee-kee-kee-kee ” (Audubon 1831) or “ tete! tete! tete,” crowing, chattering, twittering, croaking. Used in a diversity of situations, including toward the mate, toward “enemies,” and to call down members of a passing flock. A long, drawn-out, moderately loud, version of the call “ tweet ” was given repeatedly by foraging birds when a flock flew over (Behr 1911). This call, unique among pigeons, apparently was used to bring down the passing flock, which would alight in nearby trees giving a low call, “ tret, tret, tret .” The call was loud and high-pitched when the bird was “excited,” very rapid during fighting, softer and lower pitched in communication between mates. Never musical, but “highly expressive.”

(3) “ Keeho ” or “vestigial” coo soft, weak, and somewhat musical. Often followed or interspersed with louder “ keck ” and scolding notes. Two syllables, slightly descending pitch. Directed toward mate.

(4) Nest call a series of at least 8 notes, always ending with “ keeho .” Mixture of high and low burry tones, moderately loud and “half musical.” Totally unlike nest call of Mourning Dove.

(5) Copulation note like that of Mourning Dove—soft, toneless clucking.

Female vocalizations more quiet and less common, including soft clucking sound when landing on perch and when displacing another, and a toneless croak directed at a male being driven off or at another pigeon over food. Craig (1911) once heard a feeble “ keeho ” following series of clucks.

Nonvocal Sounds

Wings apparently made some sound in flight. The noise of an arriving flock, “though yet distant, reminded me of a hard gale at sea, passing through the rigging of a close-reefed vessel” (Audubon 1831: 323).