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History Passenger Pigeon

New Jersey’s State Bird

In association with the Fine Feathered Friends exhibit, here’s history behind how the Eastern Goldfinch became New Jersey’s official state bird.

Anthony Kuser, who is introduced late in the video, was also a sponsor of the search for a surviving passenger pigeon. In 1909, he offered a $300 reward for proof of an undisturbed passenger pigeon nest. The ensuing search was unsuccessful (many sightings of presumed passenger pigeons turned out to be mourning doves) but the reward, and the publicity surrounding it, helped establish with certainty the extinction of passenger pigeons in the wild.

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Archaeology Passenger Pigeon

Passenger Pigeons on New Hampshire Public Radio

How many is a lot? When you’re talking passenger pigeons, that question is more controversial than you might think.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in a discussion of passenger pigeon population numbers for the Outside/In podcast, which is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. Author Charles Mann was also interviewed because his book, 1491, repeated an earlier claim that passenger pigeon remains are rarely found on archaeological sites and questioned whether passenger pigeons were truly abundant before the 1800s.

Listen to the episode, Tempest in a Teacup, at the Outside/In website, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

“Doctorates are so weird”

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Museums Passenger Pigeon

Smithsonian Open Access Program: Martha

Passenger Pigeon mount
Martha the Passenger Pigeon. Source: Smithsonian Institution, CC 0.

To celebrate the Smithsonian Institution’s formal announcement of its Open Access program, which makes almost 3 million digital images and 3-D models freely available, here’s one of Martha (a.k.a. USNM 223979), the last passenger pigeon. Viewed from this angle, she has a bit of an attitude.

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Museums Passenger Pigeon

Extinct Birds in Ceramic

The New Jersey State Museum‘s Fine Feathered Friends exhibit combines mounted birds from the natural history collection with ceramic birds from the fine arts collection. Two extinct birds, the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) and the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), are immortalized by the Stangl Pottery Company/Fulper Pottery Company of New Jersey.

Taxidermied and ceramic birds
Taxidermied Carolina parakeet, ceramic passenger pigeon, and ceramic Carolina parakeet gaze at a life display of two passenger pigeons on a nest. Source: TCM
taxidermied and ceramic Carolina parakeets
Taxidermied and ceramic Carolina parakeets. Source: TCM
Passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet created by the Stangl/Fulper Ceramic company of New Jersey. Source: TCM
Carolina parakeet
Carolina parakeet. Source: TCM
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Passenger Pigeon

Another Passenger Pigeon in England

There are two passenger pigeons at Horniman Museum in London. This one is in Birmingham. Even better, the Birmingham Museums have made the image freely available in their Digital Image Resource.

Passenger Pigeon, male. 1998Z29. Source: Birmingham Museums, CC0 – Public Domain.
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Passenger Pigeon

Two Passenger Pigeon Specimens in England

I recently stumbled upon two more passenger pigeon mounts I was unaware of. The Horninam Museum and Gardens in London, England, has two mounted passenger pigeons, a male and a female. Photos of the birds (NH.Z. 1768 and 1769) can be seen at the museum website.

The two pigeons are part of a natural history collection amassed by Samuel Prout Newcombe in the nineteenth century. Newcombe had owned a number of photography studios in London in the mid 1800s. He also was a writer, and in 1851 wrote a guide to the The Great Exhibition (also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition) that focused on foods of the world, including an entry on the passenger pigeon. Around 1870, Newcombe sold his photography studios and retired to life a leisure.

Keenly interested in natural history, Samuel Prout Newcombe had amassed a large collection of specimens and books on natural history. … “Nature“, the International Journal of Science, reported in 1899 that: “Mr. S. Prout Newcombe has offered the London County Council his educational collection of natural history specimens and literature. This collection, which consists of about 21,000 objects, included a considerable number of works on natural history subjects“. 

https://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/Hastings_Newcombe.htm

The Horniman received the Newcombe collection in 1905.

Fireside facts from the Great Exhibition : Being an amusing series of object lessons on the food and clothing of all nations in the year 1851. Samuel Prout Newcombe 1851:90.
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Passenger Pigeon

James Bond’s Passenger Pigeon Egg

Passenger Pigeon egg. Source: Didier Descouens Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

This passenger pigeon egg is from the collection of James Bond, the real ornithologist and inspiration for the fictional spy. Bond worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and specialized in Caribbean birds. According to the label, the egg was collected in 1849 (not by Bond, who was born in 1900). It was later obtained by Jacques Perrin de Brichambaut and is now in the collection of the Muséum de Toulouse (Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de la ville de Toulouse) in France.

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Extinction Passenger Pigeon

3D Passenger Pigeon from University of Victoria at Sketchfab

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Jazz Age Adventurers Passenger Pigeon

Annie Alexander’s Contribution to Passenger Pigeon Research

An eyewitness account of trapping passenger pigeons in New Jersey in the early 1800s is one of only two publications by the woman who founded one of the premier paleontological museums in America.

In 1927, a short communication was published in the journal The Condor that quoted a letter from John Thomas Waterhouse to his parents back in England. Waterhouse described how the New Jerseyans hunted passenger pigeons using nets and guns.

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Passenger Pigeon

“An extraordinary bird of great size and beauty”

Passenger Pigeon Trading Card
George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. “Passenger pigeon.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-bf51-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

 

Mecca Cigarettes trading card from the early 1900s. “The young birds are very fat and their flesh is delicious.”