Passenger Pigeons Extinct
Martha the Passenger Pigeon, the last of her kind, died alone in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.
I was 9 years old when I first read about Martha’s death, alone in the zoo, and the story of the destruction and elimination of the Passenger Pigeon by human actions has stuck in my mind to this day.
The Passenger Pigeon population once numbered in the billions. They were a gregarious species, breeding in huge colonies and traveling in enormous flocks.
They had developed this behavior for their protection from predators. The chances of an individual surviving a hunting hawk or wolf pack were greatly increased when they were gathered in such large groups.
That is, until they encountered the worst predator of all, a human with a gun. The very thing that had kept them safe for eons became the method of their extinction.
Because they were so abundant, they were shot by the tens of thousands at a time, salted, and shipped East as food for slaves of the south and the poor living in northeastern cities.
We shot them for years and years until there were none left, except for a very few who survived in zoos. Martha (named after Martha Washington) was the last of her kind. And she died alone.
The second reason for their extinction was the loss of their forested habitat. Passenger Pigeons fed on the bounty of the forest: acorns, chestnuts, beechnuts, seeds and berries. The expansion of the human population westward meant the clear cutting of the forests, leaving less and less habitat to support this once abundant bird.
Learn more about the Passenger Pigeon extinction at From billions to none: A Passenger Pigeon timeline
Carolina Parakeets Extinct
Ironically, several years later on February 21, 1918, a Carolina Parakeet named Incas, also the last of his kind, died in the very same cage at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Carolina Parakeets were also gregarious birds, travelling in large flocks. Many southern farmers considered them pests, so they were also shot in large numbers. Their multi-colored feathers were in high demand as decorations for ladies hats.
And the quest for more agricultural land led to the destruction of their forest habitats, leaving them no place to go.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers Extinct
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker became extinct due to loss of habitat as logging to feed the insatiable desire for lumber at the sawmills of the south.
Although there was some excitement several years ago when scientists reported that an Ivory-billed Woodpecker had been spotted, no sightings have been reported since, despite the fact that large numbers of birders have been searching for this bird.
Instead of Taking, Let’s Give Something Back
I read these stories when I was quite young while on a personal quest to read through the entire set of encyclopedias and year books in my family’s home, and even at that young age, I began to see a pattern: humans would take and take and take until they had destroyed something, and then moved onto the next area for exploitation.
Sadly, we have learned very little from our past actions. In Florida, the Florida Scrub Jay is quite threatened because its upland scrub habitat is also an ideal place to construct new Walmarts.
In Wisconsin the Karner Blue Butterfly is endangered due to loss of habitat.
In California, the Behren’s Silverspot Butterfly is endangered due to loss of coastal habitat as new homes continue to be built.
In fact, the leading cause of wildlife declines is habitat loss by human action and the spread of invasive plants.
We were really good at taking, but what if we learned to give back?
And thus began my mission: to teach people to give a little back to wildlife by creating welcoming habitat in our gardens.
In the US, only 5% of land is protected, and much of this is subject to multiple use clauses, meaning that the space that could be preserved as wildlife habitat is also used for mining, logging, snow mobiling, ATVs, and more.
But 80% of our land is held privately. That means that each of us as homeowners, business owners, schools, churches, and more could actually begin to make a difference for wildlife by giving some habitat back to them.
If each of us chose to give back, even in small ways, we could collectively make quite an impact for wildlife.
What are you doing to give a little back to wildlife?
This article is a part of a series. To read more about my journey, please see:
Part 3: Becoming China Bayles
Part 4: Seduced by a Pretty Face
Part 5: Thank You Sara Stein
Part 6: You Are Not Alone
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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