On 1 September 1914 a pigeon died in Cincinnati zoo, around lunchtime, and with her died her species. The pigeon’s name was Martha and her species was the passenger pigeon. Only 50 years before, passenger pigeons flew in flocks of millions across the forests of the eastern US and Canada. They ate acorns, beechnuts and chestnuts, and scoured the forests of America, from Ontario to Florida, and from Texas to Wisconsin, in search of places where the trees produced most seed. Passenger pigeons nested in colonies of tens of millions, and in winter their roosts were so packed that the weight of birds broke the limbs off mature trees. Flocks would pass overhead for hours at a time, darkening the sky. The French-American artist, John James Audubon, described a flock in Kentucky in the early 1800s, which he estimated at more than a billion birds. Similar descriptions from other, apparently reliable, sources describe flocks that could have numbered millions of birds in one locality. Yet, around 1900, the species was extinct in the wild. After that a few captive birds remained until Martha (named after the wife of George Washington) died in the cage that still stands in Cincinnati zoo. The passenger pigeon was the commonest… Read full this story
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