Passenger Pigeons: Zoology Object of the Week (March 7, 2011)

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Recently, the DMNS ornithology collection received a donation of two passenger pigeons.  The pigeons were rescued from the auction block and came to us mounted inside a bell jar and are most likely over 100 years old.


Why is this donation so important?  Passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) have been extinct for almost a century.  Once the most numerous species of bird in North America, with estimates as high as 3-5 billion, they were gone from the wild by the beginning of the 20th century. There are reports of passenger pigeon flocks blacking out the skies over the course of several days, an infinite multitude indeed.


The last captive passenger pigeon, Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914 and found a permanent home in the collections at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  A combination of factors such as overhunting and habitat destruction led to the demise of this iconic bird.


We will dismount the birds from their rickety stand and incorporate them into our research collections.  You can see more passenger pigeons on display in the Northern & Rare Birds Hall on the 3rd floor of the Museum.

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