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Bird flying in the sky

100 Years Ago – Memorial to Passenger Pigeons

November is the time to think of turkeys and family gatherings, but a hundred years ago people were thinking about another bird – the Passenger Pigeon. This very social creature with the long, but larger profile of a Morning Dove became extinct in the fall of 1914 * after once numbering in the billions with flocks “so dense that they blackened the sky”!! When North America was first being settled, it is estimated there were 3 to 6 billion of these birds. Back then, 1 in 4 birds on the Earth were Passenger Pigeons!! It is really hard to fathom…

Passenger Pigeon graphic It is interesting to realize that—for the Native Americans—the Passenger Pigeon was the second most important game bird, with the wild turkey ranking first. Unfortunately, there were 50 years of commercial hunting in the mid to late 1800’s that made the passenger pigeon an important food source for poor people. These low-flying birds were easy targets for hunters and trappers – and especially young boys just learning to hunt. Along with that, the Passenger Pigeon habitat was being destroyed (aka deforestation for land development) that eventually resulted in their demise.

It’s too bad that Ben Franklin didn’t suggest naming the Passenger Pigeon for our National Bird instead of the Turkey. It might have stimulated more interest in saving what was soon-to-become an endangered and lost species. If there was one good thing to come of this terrible loss, it was the passage of protection laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

*Records vary as to the actual extinction date and range from 1900 to 1930, but Martha, the last captive Passenger Pigeon died September 1, 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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