The Passenger Pigeon was once the most common bird in the United States and possibly the world but was brought to extinction in 1914. To mark this sad anniversary, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery is displaying its own specimen of a Passenger Pigeon as the Object of the Month.
Passenger pigeons lived in enormous colonies, with up to 100 nests in a single tree. Migrating flocks stretched for miles and turned the skies black. One such flock in 1866, reported to be a mile wide and 300 miles long, took 14 hours to pass overhead and was estimated to contain 3.5 billion birds! Unbelievably, within 50 years, the species was extinct.
With such huge numbers, the Passenger Pigeon was the last bird one would expect to become extinct. But due to overhunting, habitat loss, and possibly infectious diseases that spread through the colonies, they became increasingly rare by the late nineteenth century. The last confirmed sighting of a wild Passenger Pigeon was in 1900.
The last living Passenger Pigeon was “Martha”, who lived her whole life in Cincinnati Zoo. When she died aged 29 on 1st September 1914, the species was extinct.
Stephen Hewitt, Curator of Natural History at the Museum said “We don’t know how our Passenger Pigeon specimen came to be in the collection here, but it is sobering to look at it and think how fragile life on earth is that such a once common species can be so easily wiped out forever.”J Hindmarsh