Martha_last_passenger_pigeon_1914Once the most abundant bird in North America, and perhaps the world, more than five billion passenger pigeons were flying free in the early 1800s. One hundred years later, they were gone. 

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In addition to dwindling forest habitat, passenger pigeons were hunted relentlessly for commercial sale and sport.

By the time we realized the passenger pigeon was in real trouble, it was too late. The last known wild pigeon was killed in Ohio in 1900. After that, a single captive flock existed here at the Cincinnati Zoo. Breeding attempts failed, and by 1910, a lone female named Martha remained. When Martha passed away on September 1, 1914, it was the first documented extinction of a species at the hand of man. 

The extinction of the passenger pigeon was a wake-up call. If we wanted to prevent the extinction of other species, we had to start managing our impact on wildlife. Thus, the conservation movement in America began. 

Commemorating 100 Years of Extinction

p3_logoThe Zoo is partnering with more than 160 institutions across the nation in a year-long initiative to promote wildlife conservation through Project Passenger Pigeon. The project aims to engage a broad audience through a documentary film, a new book on passenger pigeons, a website, social media, curricula and a wide range of exhibits and programming for people of all ages.

Passenger Pigeon MemorialThe Passenger Pigeon Memorial at the Cincinnati Zoo is undergoing renovation in 2014 to transform it from a single-species memorial to an educational exhibit with a positive and hopeful conservation message that segues from the story of the passenger pigeon to modern wildlife conservation efforts. The building is closed for renovations and will reopen later in the summer.

Project Updates


Passenger Pigeon Events

In addition to the renovation of the Passenger Pigeon Memorial, there are plenty of related events and activities.

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View world-renowned wildlife painter John Ruthven’s latest painting titled Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon, reproduced as a mural on the side of a building at 15 E. Eighth St. in downtown Cincinnati. It features a flock of passenger pigeons, led by Martha, in flight at the Zoo. 

The first major book on the passenger pigeon in 60 years - A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction written by Joel Greenberg – has recently been published. 

A documentary film, From Billions to None, is also being created to illustrate the passenger pigeon’s history and impact.

August 29th – 30th

Ohio Ornithological Society will hold a symposium at the Zoo themed around the passenger pigeon.

  • Friday, Aug. 29 - “Martinis with Martha” will include guest presentations and a musical performance!
  • Saturday, Aug. 30 – Learn more about the Passenger Pigeon from our great lineup of guest speakers with stories bringing a message of hope for future species and our “lessons learned”, and what you can do to help. Event Details.

The Masterworks for Nature group of Cincinnati-based nature artists will display works themes around wildlife conservation success stories at the Zoo’s Education Center from August 29 to September 3.

On September 3, John Ruthven will speak at the Zoo as part of the Barrows Conservation Lecture Series and receive the 2014 Cincinnati Zoo Wildlife Conservation Award.

On October 29, Xavier University’s Brueggeman Center for Dialogue will hold a Passenger Pigeon Symposium at the Cintas Center.

From December 3 – 5, the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council Symposium dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction will take place in Cincinnati.

Martha Tribute

Songwriter Chris Rowlands composed and recorded this tribute to Martha the passenger pigeon. 

Listen to Passenger Pigeon Song (mp3)