Saturday Scenes

Thu 6 September 2012

The Last Passenger Pigeon

Filed under: #satscene —— Sylvia @ 22:11

On the 1st of September in 1914, Martha died. Martha, named after Martha Washington, was the last known living passenger pigeon. Passenger pigeons were the most abundant birds in the world, believed to constituted 20%-40% of all the birds in the US. They were known for their enormous migratory flocks. Audubon estimated there were as many as 1 billion pigeons in a single flock. One sighting in 1866 in southern Ontario was described as being 1 mile (1.5 kilometres) wide and 300 miles (500 kilometres) long, and taking 14 hours to pass a single point, with number estimates in excess of 3.5 billion birds in the flock.

However, these large colonies and communal breeding (with hundreds of nests in a single tree) made them easy to find and as a result, easy to hunt.

Martha, the World’s Last Passenger Pigeon | Around The Mall

As pigeon meat began to be sold in stores as a cheap source of protein, the threat from hunters became even more significant than that of lost habitat. The pigeons’ intensely social nature, once a strength, became a liability. “Commercial hunters would get word that a flock had showed up at some locality, and the hunters would go and set off nets or just fire repeatedly with their shotguns,” Dean says. “The flock was such a tight-knit group that even as individuals were falling and dying, the rest of the flock wouldn’t leave.” Other methods of killing were crueler, with some hunters soaking grain in alcohol to make them easier to kill.

After Martha’s death, she was frozen in a 300-pound block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian, where she was stuffed and mounted into a display case with the following notation:


Last of her species, died at 1 p.m.,
1 September 1914, age 29, in the
Cincinnati Zoological Garden.

Almost a hundred years later, on the 1st of September 2012, these wonderful moments were recorded for posterity:

And here are the photographers (and some budding zoologists) who took them:

Shouldn’t you save a photograph of your day-to-day life for posterity? It’s easy!

  1. Take a photograph on a Saturday
  2. Upload the photograph
  3. Send a tweet to @SatScenes with the url and the location
  4. Bookmark for future descendants to find

I’m looking forward to seeing your photograph in the next edition!

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