Daily Archives: 1 September 2017

The Passenger Pigeon


Martha, the world’s last passenger pigeon, died on this day in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo. Martha was believed to be 29 at the time of her death. The last known nest with an egg was found in 1895 near Minneapolis. They were both collected.

The passenger pigeon bred around the Great Lakes of North America; their range was vast: from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains and from southern Canada to Mississippi. They numbered between 3-5 billion at their peak. Migrating in huge flocks, constantly searching for food, the passenger pigeon could fly at speeds of up to 62 mph. Flocks of passenger pigeons were often described as being a mile wide and 300 miles long, darkening the sky for hours, and even days as they passed overhead.

“The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow, and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose… I cannot describe to you the extreme beauty of their aerial evolutions, when a hawk chanced to press upon the rear of the flock. At once, like a torrent, and with a noise like thunder, they rushed into a compact mass, pressing upon each other towards the center. In these almost solid masses, they darted forward in undulating and angular lines, descended and swept close over the earth with inconceivable velocity, mounted perpendicularly so as to resemble a vast column, and, when high, were seen wheeling and twisting within their continued lines, which then resembled the coils of a gigantic serpent… Before sunset I reached Louisville, distant from Hardensburgh fifty-five miles. The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers and continued to do so for three days in succession.”
— John James Audubon in 1813

100 years later, the passenger pigeon would be extinct.