Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon, Cincinnati Zoo, 1914.
September 1, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). Project Passenger Pigeon is compiling documentation from myriad sources presenting the story of what was formerly the most abundant bird in North America, and probably the world, and the actions of Homo sapiens that caused its rapid extinction.
Project Passenger Pigeon states its mission as:”…an international effort to commemorate this anniversary and use it not only as an opportunity to familiarize people with this remarkable species, but also to raise awareness of current issues related to human-caused extinction, explore connections between humans and the natural world, and inspire people to become more involved in building a sustainable relationship with other species.”
As stated in many written accounts, the number of Passenger Pigeons darkened the sky for hours, if not days. We in the 21st century cannot comprehend this spectacle since there is no equivalent. As Alexander Wilson wrote in 1812: “…the most remarkable characteristic of these birds is their associating together, both in their migrations, and also during the period of incubation, in such prodigious numbers, as almost to surpass belief; and which has no parallel among any of the other feathered tribes on earth, with which naturalists are acquainted” [excerpted from p. 33 of The Birds of North America edited by Jacob H. Studer with John Graham Bell and Frank Michler Chapman, published in 1888 by The Natural Science Association of America. This book is available at Google Books].
Project Passenger Pigeon has a link for all fifty of the United States and the provinces of Canada, where information about the species and the particular state and province may be found. The main breeding range of the Passenger Pigeon fell outside of New Jersey although they did nest sporadically in Sussex and probably Warren, Morris and Passaic Counties. They were seen in all months of the year in New Jersey, at times in extraordinary numbers.
There are two known accounts from Morris County that mocosocoBirds is aware of: one, a report from Sept. 16, 1798 of migrating birds over Morristown (Schorger), and secondly, E.C. Thurber’s account: “Formerly very abundant, but now rare. I saw one that was shot at Morris Plains, Sept. 16, 1885.” There are no known written records from Somerset County.
Passenger Pigeon Links
The New Jersey section of Project Passenger Pigeon is here. Information on Schorger’s document is in the New Jersey section.
The New Jersey State Museum currently has a Passenger Pigeon exhibit from August 30, 2014 through June 27, 2015: A Shadow Over The Earth: The Life & Death of the Passenger Pigeon. A link for that exhibit is here.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s Passenger Pigeon memorial is here.
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History also has information on Martha and the Passenger Pigeon here.
On the positive side of preservation, American Bird Conservancy reports that one of our breeding warblers, the Cerulean Warbler, has new protected wintering grounds in the northern Andes of Ecuador. That story can be read here.