Passenger Pigeon on the 100th Anniversary of Extinction

© Louis Agassiz Fuertes

On September 1, 1914, The last known Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), who had been given the name Martha by the Cincinnati Zoo, died in captivity. She was 29 years old. She’d never raised young. When she died, so did the species. As the bumper sticker reminds us, extinction is forever. After 100 years, Passenger Pigeons are just beginning to be extinct. 100 years before the death of this last female, the Passenger Pigeon may have been the most numerous bird species on the planet.

Numbering in the billions these beautiful and highly social birds filled the skies and the dense deciduous forests of the East. Now the skies are filled with satellites, aircraft and far too many parts per million and the forests are shattered.

For North Americans born in the 20th or 21st centuries, our childhoods are filled with stories of the days when this or that species was so abundant that you could walk across the river on their backs, or it took days for the flock to pass, or the herd stretched from horizon to horizon, or the sun was darkened by their shadow. We hear these stories and wonder what they could mean. Our world is so much emptier now, we can barely imagine this – yet these stories are largely true. The American Buffalo (Bison bison), Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis), Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis), Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) – each of these species were once common, some so common that it was inconceivable at the time that they could ever be threatened with extinction. This is the important fact. In our time we protect (if we do) the threatened and the endangered species, but as we see, it’s the common species, the ones we take for granted, who’ve been driven to extinction by the thoughtless machine that grips us.

On this sad anniversary, why not take a vow to break free of the machine’s soulless grasp? Vow to be a bird ally, a wild ally. Live an authentic human life in the blaze of reality. What else is there?

To learn more about these species, and the terrible history of industrial civilization, start here:


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