February 6, 2012

Martha: The Last Known Passenger Pigeon

written by Rosa Morgan

My tail feathers shudder when I consider I'm the last of
Ectopistes migratorius. And so, I, Martha the Passenger Pigeon, feel compelled to bear witness to my noble species, and how swiftly we were massacred into extinction.

John James Audubon's painting catches the loving nature of our life long mating character.
Hen and cock are so dedicated to their young squabs that they both lovingly sit on their eggs, and once hatched, they feed them a cheesy milk, which they produce.

Our numbers were once huge. An 1866 sighting in southern Ontario noted 3.5 billion migrating birds made up a flock that spanned 1 mile wide, 300 miles long, and took 14 hours to pass a single point.

So how did the most abundant bird in the world in the 19th century dwindle down to me being the last one alive?

Part of the problem was that our sheer numbers left devastation in our path. The weight of large nesting groups broke off tree branches. We ate all edible nuts, seeds, and berries as we went, and our droppings were so thick, it often destroyed the forest understory. In other words, we were not environmentally friendly.

However, monetary gain was the biggest factor which led to our demise. At a penny a bird, we were a ready and inexpensive source of meat for slaves and the poor; and huntsmen attacked us without compunction.

Due to our communal breeding habits, we were easy targets, but that didn't stop trap-shooters from using us in tournaments. In 1881, at Coney Island N.Y. 20,000 of my kin were killed in one sporting event.

Mr. Bergh's Anti-Pigeon Bill was passed by the Senate, but this law was generally ignored by huntsmen, and attempts to save us by breeding surviving captive birds proved unsuccessful.

That's where I come into the story. I lived my entire life in the Cincinnati Zoo. They gave me a cock to mate with, but how can one feel amorous under such dire circumstances. We were genetically programmed to breed with hundreds, thousands, even millions of our brethren surrounding us with love. I died at at 1 p.m. on September 1, 1914 at the age of 29, but do not shed a tear for me in vain. Let my death and that of all passenger pigeons be a reminder that life on Earth is precious, and we must do our best to preserve its diversity.

John Herald sings tribute to Martha

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