PS 44-113
A century later: A multi-disciplinary effort to share the lessons from the extinction of the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Exhibit Hall B, Minneapolis Convention Center
David Blockstein, National Council for Science and Environment, Washington, DC
Joel Greenberg, Project Passenger Pigeon, Chicago, IL
Steve Sullivan, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago, IL
Stanley Temple, Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison & Aldo Leopold Foundation, Madison, WI

In 1800, more than five billion Passenger Pigeons crisscrossed the skies of the eastern United States and Canada. Passing flocks darkened the skies for many hours. Yet, by 1900 the species was virtually extinct, and on September 1, 1914, Martha, the last of her species, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. The echoes of the passenger pigeon's life still resonate and can teach us lessons of stewardship, hope, and sustainable living for the 21st century. The centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon provides a teachable moment for scientists, educators, and public to consider how the most abundant bird in the world went extinct over a matter of decades and to ponder its implications for today. Its extinction is often incorrectly oversimplified as “exterminated by overhunting”. Extinction was a result of the interplay between biological and human factors – including vulnerability resulting from specialization, the rise of technology (railroads and telegraphs), economics (market hunting to provide meat to urban markets) and values. The story of the Passenger Pigeon holds many lessons for today. These range from the obvious that abundance is not a predictor of resilience to the subtle that new apparently unrelated forms of technology can help cause extinction.


Project Passenger Pigeon (P3) - a multi-disciplinary international effort is underway to use this teachable moment to advance science and conservation – see ( Partners include museums, zoos, nature centers, universities, primary and secondary schools, and other governmental, cultural, and educational entities. P3 includes lesson plans, music, theatre, poetry, film by David Mrazek, stories, art, museum and exhibits (including downloadble displays), speakers, a book (by Joel Greenberg to be published in January 2014), performance of a 19th century symphony (Ode to the American Wild Passenger Pigeon by Anthony Philip Heinrich), new research, digital and traditional media and many other approaches to share the story of the Passenger Pigeon and its relevance for today. Multi-disciplinary exploration combining contemporary science (such as GIS techniques to map movements of a species 150 years ago) and historical analysis are shedding new insights on this species. P3 catalyzes individuals to engage in activities that stimulate conservation action and turn this tragic story into one of inspiration and progress. We are making available a wide range of scientifically and historically accurate media resources and other materials. Interested groups and individuals can download selected materials, or locate special resources, to suit their own presentation and communication desires.