RIP Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

The Passenger Pigeon was once the most common bird in America, perhaps five billion strong. During migration, flocks would be 300 miles long, a mile wide and take days to pass by. Then pigeon meat was commercialized as cheap food for slaves and the poor. John James Audubon described a slaughter: "Few Pigeons were then to be seen, but a great number of persons, with horses and wagons, guns and ammunition, had already established encampments on the borders. Two farmers from the vicinity of Russelsville, distant more than a hundred miles, had driven upwards of three hundred hogs to be fattened on the pigeons which were to be slaughtered. Here and there, the people employed in plucking and salting what had already been procured, were seen sitting in the midst of large piles of these birds. The dung lay several inches deep, covering the whole extent of the roosting-place."

By the 1850's there were calls to protect the birds but it was useless; the bird only thrived in large numbers and small groups could not breed successfully. Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died on this day 93 years ago in Cincinatti, Ohio. She is now stuffed and at the Smithsonian, but not on display; she should be as a lesson to us all.

Tags: Extinction