One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Any of various birds that occur on the prairies in large flocks which resemble those of pigeons, especially the extinct passenger pigeon; specifically (a) the upland sandpiper, Bartramia longicauda; (b) the American golden plover, Pluvialis dominica; (c) Franklin's gull, Larus pipixcan; compare prairie dove; (d) now historical the Eskimo curlew, Numenius borealis.
Late 19th century; earliest use found in Elliott Coues (1842–1889), naturalist and historian. From prairie + pigeon.
prairie pigeon/ˈprɛːri ˌpɪdʒ(ɪ)n/
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