Steve Zack, Wildlife Conservation Society | August 30, 2014 12:24pm ET
19th-century American painter John James Audubon "was struck with amazement" at the darkened skies caused by the passenger pigeon. The man who would become famous as an artist of nature was, not surprisingly, himself a naturalist. This painting by John James Audubon of a passenger pigeon dates to 1824.
Credit: John James Audubon
Steve Zack is coordinator of Bird Conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). He contributed this article to LiveScience'sExpert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Monday is the centenary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. That timing is precise, because we know that the very last bird (Martha, after Martha Washington) died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. It was, without doubt, the most dramatic extinction ever witnessed.
No other bird has so impressively darkened the skies and stirred wonder and awe in the immensity of its flocks as did the passenger pigeon. The bird was witnessed by John James Audubon, John Muir, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and countless of their peers in early America.