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100 years ago: Martha

Chris Merkord

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From the Birding Community E-bulletin, August 2014:

It's extraordinarily rare to know when the last of a species takes its last breath and becomes irrevocably extinct. In the case of Passenger Pigeon we know when that happened with a high degree of certainty. On 1 September 1914 at 1pm, Martha, the last of her species, died at the Cincinnati Zoo.

At one time, the Passenger Pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America, perhaps even in the world, with a population numbering an estimated three to five billion birds. They were once so common that flocks could literally darken the skies for hours or days at a time. Yet the species was driven to the very edge of extinction in just the last four or five decades of the 19th century. It was an extinction caused by unregulated and unrelenting market hunting and "sport shooting," exacerbated by the spreading technologies of telegraph and modern railroads that facilitated these horrific activities.

While the loss of the Passenger Pigeon became emblematic for the 20th century American conservation movement, it continues to be a reminder of the need for humans to be responsible stewards of birds, wildlife, and nature. For that alone, Martha's departure, 100 years ago next month, should be remembered. 

Also, at the end of last month, 127 organizations got together and sent a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to issue a presidential proclamation commemorating the centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon.

To obtain more information about the Passenger Pigeon, the centenary, and the current lessons its departure holds, see:

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