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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... the passenger pigeon, 85 years gone.


CURWOOD: Eighty-five years ago, passenger pigeons went the way of the dodo when Martha, the world's last passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Wild passenger pigeons used to migrate in huge flocks, by some accounts in the billions up and down the eastern part of North America, foraging for acorns and beech nuts. When roosting they could cover hundreds of square miles of forest. The flocks were reported the darken the sky when flying overhead, and their flapping wings created a din that one observer described this way: "Imagine a thousand threshing machines, accompanied by as many steamboats, with an equal quota of railroad trains passing through covered bridges, and you possibly have a faint conception of the terrific roar following the monstrous black cloud of pigeons as they pass in rapid flight." That roar was often accompanied by the sound of gunfire, as the pigeons were a favorite target for hunters. The pigeons were shot for sustenance, for sport, and for sale. Roasted passenger pigeons were a delicacy in fine restaurants in the 1800s, and back in the 1700s colonists couldn't get enough of pigeon pot pie. As for Martha, the world's last passenger pigeon, you can still take a gander at her if you like. She was frozen in a 300-pound block of ice right after she died on September 1, 1914, and shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, where she remains on display today. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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