Once 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.
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.
Did You Know?
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.
A National Historic Landmark, the last remaining Japanese pagoda-style building that was one of the Zoo’s early bird aviaries, built in 1875, has been preserved as the Passenger Pigeon Memorial.
The exhibit pays tribute to Martha, the last known passenger pigeon who died at the Zoo in 1914. Once the most numerous bird on Earth, the passenger pigeon was hunted into extinction. The exhibit serves as a reminder to all of the tragedy of extinction and pleas with visitors to consider how their actions affect wildlife.
In commemoration of the centennial of the passenger pigeon’s extinction, the Passenger Pigeon Memorial underwent a renovation in 2014, transforming 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.