A mounted passenger pigeon found at a California jewelry store has been donated to the Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. The bird was purchased by Purdue alum Andrew Howe and then flew by plane to Florida before making its final flight to Indiana.
From the Smithsonian Institution, here’s a passenger pigeon bone, specifically a left humerus (wing). the Smithsonian only identifies it as being from Bartow County, Georgia, but given the collector is attributed to “Lipps et al,” it is likely from Ladd’s Quarry. In the 1960s, Shorter College biology professor Emma Lewis Lipps excavated at this site and sent many fossils to the Smithsonian.
If you know anything about passenger pigeons, you know the last passenger pigeon was named Martha. She died 106 years ago today, on September 1st, 1914.
In 1977 the Cincinnati Zoo, where Martha lived and died, created a memorial to the extinct passenger pigeon in one of the few surviving original animal houses. The photo above shows part of the large wooden door covered with carvings of passenger pigeons at the entrance.
The pagoda-style building was built as an aviary to display many types of birds. It and two other animal houses that also date back to the zoo’s opening in 1875 have been designated a National Historic Landmark.
“The world lost a great bird,” said Fluke, his voice still emotional at the memory, even after 74 years. “She was just magnificent. When [she died], I felt that I had lost a pal, because I always went around to see her.” Perhaps this is the greatest value of Richard Fluke’s testimony. Others mourned Martha’s loss — and still mourn it — in the abstract, as the point final in the tragic history of a species wasted through human greed. But the little boy who sat in the yellow pagoda, talking to her, stroking her feathers, feeding her tiny bits of food, mourned the passing of his friend.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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“.
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.