An exhibit on the life and tragic extinction of the passenger pigeon is now on view in the hallway near the gymnasium at Margaretville Central School where it can be seen through February 13.
Sponsored by John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge, the ten-panel exhibit is a lament for a bird that once darkened the skies over our region, but which was hunted to extinction within the lifetime of the Roxbury-born naturalist (1837-1921). The last captive passenger pigeon died September 1, 1914.
The exhibit, developed and designed by the Chicago Museum of Science and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, includes a locally produced panel about Burroughs and his sightings of and comments on this amazing bird.
This display will also be on view at Morgan Outdoors in Livingston Manor, Sullivan County from February 21 through April 10, and then at the Phoenicia Library, Ulster County, from April 18 through May 22.
In the year 1800, more than five billion passenger pigeons crisscrossed the skies of the eastern United States and Canada, perhaps a quarter of the continent’s avifauna. The species occurred only in North America, primarily east of the Rocky Mountains, and bred almost exclusively in the eastern deciduous forest. Passing flocks could darken the skies for three days straight. The beats of their wings would create drafts that chilled the people over whom they flew.
Naturalist Burroughs recalled being transfixed by the sight of huge flocks descending on his family’s Roxbury farmstead. “In my boyhood the vast armies of the passenger pigeons were one of the most notable spring tokens. Often late in March, or early in April, the naked beechwoods would suddenly become blue with them, and vocal with their soft, childlike calls; all day the sky would be streaked with the long lines or dense masses of the moving armies.”
However, in the face of relentless slaughter for food and recreation, coupled with habitat loss, this seemingly inexhaustible resource was depleted in just a few decades. By 1900 the species was virtually extinct, and on the afternoon of September 1, 1914, Martha, the last of her species, died in the Cincinnati Zoo.