Passenger Pigeons: Zoology Object of the Week (March 7, 2011)
Posted 3/7/2011 12:03 AM by Jeff Stephenson | Comments
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
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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