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Highlights Archives

Passenger Pigeons: The Extinction of a Species

Captive passenger pigeons in an aviary at the University of Chicago, 1896
WHI 53454

A collection of 24 photographs of captive passenger pigeons from the late 19th century documents some of the last living specimens of the now-extinct bird and provides the substance for another Wisconsin Historical Images photo gallery. The photos, taken by J.G. Hubbard in Chicago in 1896, detail part of a passenger pigeon collection belonging to Frank M. Chapman, former curator of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The photographs show pigeons as chicks and adults, singly and in groups.

Once Numerous, Now Extinct

At the time the Europeans began exploring North America, ornithologists and historians estimate that there were 3 to 5 billion passenger pigeons, constituting 25 to 40 percent of the total North American bird population. Each spring they migrated from the South to the Midwest, making a return journey in the fall, darkening the sky with their passing. A combination of their nesting habits, over hunting, and the clear cutting of forests caused their extinction. The last passenger pigeon, a captive bird named Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden on September 1, 1914.

:: Posted October 28, 2010

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