In the News: The Last Passenger Pigeon—Centenary of an Extinction

On September 1st, 1914, Martha, the last surviving Passenger Pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Her remains were put on ice and sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where she resides and is displayed as perhaps the most famous individual member of an extinct species.

“The passenger pigeons or wild pigeon belongs to the order Columbiformes. Its scientific name is Ectopistes migratorius. Ectopistes means ‘moving about or wandering,’ and migratorius means ‘migrating.’ The scientific name carries the connotation of a bird that not only migrates in the spring and fall, but one that also moves about from season to season to select the most favorable environment for nesting and feeding.”

Encyclopedia Smithsonian

Because the UCLA Library licenses The Birds of North America Online by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the American Ornithologists’ Union, researchers may read David Blockstein’s species-specific monograph, which begins:

“Legendary among ornithologists and laypeople alike as a symbol of staggering abundance on the one hand and of human greed and indifference on the other, the Passenger Pigeon is arguably North America’s best known extinct species.” (Blockstein, David E. 2002. Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

In recent days, numerous news media have recounted the story of Martha (Smithsonian Magazine) and why the once-ubiquitous species (NPR blog, 1 September 2014) went extinct (Audubon magazine, May-June 2014), as well as hopes to resurrect some traits of the species (National Geographic, 31 August 2014). The Wikipedia entry for the term (Passenger pigeon) blossomed with citation-supported details in time for the extinction centenary.

Project Passenger Pigeon, from the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum,  includes news about its film documentary project (From Billions to None) as well as K-12 lesson plans and printable panels for an exhibit (A Shadow Over the Earth: The Life and Death of the Passenger Pigeon) by the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

An exhibit at the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library for September 2014 starts with early-19th century depictions by Alexander Wilson and James Audubon, and traces the story of the passenger pigeon’s overwhelming presence to its demise, through books selected from the UCLA Library’s Donald R. Dickey Library of Vertebrate Zoology and Reese and Rosemary Benson Bird Books.

“Open the (Exhibit) Cases” opportunities to view the Wilson and octavo edition Audubon volumes close-up—along with Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1729-1747) and the reprint edition of Audubon’s double elephant folio-sized  Birds of America—will be held in the Biomedical Library lobby at 1:00p.m. on Fridays, September 19 and 26.

This exhibit is part of an occasional series, In the News, which draws on items from the historical collections to inform current events.

Russell Johnson
History & Special Collections for the Sciences
UCLA Library Special Collections

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