Martha, last of her kind, looks pretty good after a century of extinction
Don Hurlbert/Smithsonian Institution
For the first time this century, one of the world’s most famous bird specimens has come out of storage for public display.
Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, is posed on a branch amid a small collection of mementos of doom — some lovely, some poignant and some ironic — at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. September 1, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the day when keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo found the roughly 29-year-old bird dead in her cage. That day, humankind knew the exact date, a Tuesday, when a species vanished from Earth.
The spooky precision is far from the only reason the passenger pigeon haunts us. Ectopistes migratorius was so abundant that people on occasion filled potholes with pigeons. Even now, it’s stunning that humans, without particularly intending to, could in mere decades cut down a species numbering 3 billion to 5 billion birds to just Martha, and then, to nothing (