Monthly Archives: August 2012

Pigeon pie: Looking back on a celebrated bird extinction

Birds are magnificent animals, an evolutionary victory stemming from the dinosaur lineage that saw them seize the skies and survive and flourish after the cataclysm at the Cretaceous more than 65 million years ago. Having jostled with the mammals for control over the post-Mesozoic world, the birds have conquered vast ecological niches, with a few having left the skies for the ground.

Janique Goff Image Credit:

Huge flocks of fliers are still a familiar sight, with those of birds like the quelea of Africa being so dense as to block the sun itself. Flocks of similar proportions used to darken the skies of North America. The passenger pigeon is one of the darkest chapters in the history of ornithology, having been seen in huge numbers before finally being reduced to a single individual due to habitat loss and wanton overhunting; often these pigeons were hunted by the wagonload to be turned into pigeon pie. Sightings persisted until the 1930s, while the last documented member of the species, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

Janique Goff Image Credit:

The passenger pigeon joins many other birds like its cousin the famed Dodo into oblivion. The case for the pigeon is catastrophic in that, for a time, it was perhaps the most abundant species of bird in the world. Such a tragedy of oversight is a harsh lesson learned for conservationists and the public at large.

Janique Goff Image Credit:

More information on the passenger pigeon can be accessed here. Follow Janique Goff on this blog.