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A century without the Passenger Pigeon

Passenger Pigeons by Louis Agassiz Fuertes. From left: juvenile, male, and female.

September 1st was the 100th anniversary of a sad occasion: the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, the largest-scale human-caused extinction in history. We marked the event by publishing two important and thought-provoking works:

Aldo Leopold in 1942. Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation,
Aldo Leopold in 1942. Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation,

“On a Monument to the Pigeon,” by Aldo Leopold
Written by the famous writer and visionary conservationist in 1947 on the occasion of the dedication of the Passenger Pigeon Monument in Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin, this classic essay is widely regarded as the most poignant ever written about extinction.

“Do We Yet Understand the Lessons of the Passenger Pigeon’s Extinction?” by Dr. Stanley Temple
Temple is Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Senior Fellow, Aldo Leopold Foundation. For 32 years, he held the academic position occupied by Aldo Leopold. This is the address he gave on May 17, 2014, as part of the re-dedication of the Wyalusing monument.

Additional articles about the Passenger Pigeon:

“Like Meteors from Heaven,” by Joel Greenberg
Greenberg is a founder and principal of Project Passenger Pigeon and the author of the acclaimed book A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction (Bloomsburg, 2014). In this moving article from our February 2014 issue, he tells the Passenger Pigeon’s story, one of the saddest ever told.

From billions to none: A Passenger Pigeon timeline
Our timeline tracks the demise of the Passenger Pigeon in 422 years — from 1492 when the population likely number 3-5 billion, to 1914, when Martha, the last remaining pigeon, died on September 1.


“From Billions to None” and “The Lost Bird Project”
Read our review of new documentaries about the Passenger Pigeon and an art project that has placed six-foot-tall bronze statues of the Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, Carolina Parakeet, Labrador Duck, and Great Auk at the Smithsonian Institution and in cities across the country.

Drastic population fluctuations explain rapid extinction
A novel study using DNA extracted from the toe pads of three Passenger Pigeon specimens suggests that the bird was not always as populous as it was in the 1800s, when it is believed 3-5 billion individuals roamed North American forests.

Smithsonian displays North America’s lost birds
Two new exhibits at the Smithsonian call attention to North American bird species that have been lost to extinction. The exhibits are not to be missed.


Can the Passenger Pigeon be brought back to life?
One of the most promising methods of bringing the Passenger Pigeon back involves extracting DNA from specimens and using that to create Passenger Pigeon traits in a Band-tailed Pigeon. To be successful, scientists would have to overcome a host of challenge

Updated September 1, 2014: Live links added.
Updated September 2, 2014: Tense changed.




Originally Published

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