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Recalling the Passenger Pigeon

Recalling the Passenger Pigeon

During September, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is marking the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. The last remaining individual of the species was a bird named Martha who died 100 years ago on September 1, at the Cincinnati Zoo. At one time, Passenger Pigeons blackened the skies for miles across North America in truly epic flocks containing billions of birds.

As you approach the main entrance to the Lab under the sweeping portico, notice the graceful cast-bronze sculpture of a Passenger Pigeon. In fact, it will be hard to miss artist Todd McGrain’s 6-foot-tall depiction of the bird. The sculpture is part of McGrain’s “Lost Bird Project”—a memorial to five extinct bird species. Run your hands over the sculpture’s smooth surface and wonder what it would have been like to see the real thing in the skies above—as they once were.

Head inside the Morgens Observatory and into the auditorium to see an exhibit by multiple artists, each work featuring the Passenger Pigeon as its subject. One element of the exhibit is the “Passenger Pigeon Portrait Gallery.” This unique collection includes the work of 14 artists representing a state or region where the Passenger Pigeon could once be found. Their inspiration takes many forms, including photography, sketches, painting, and even books.              

Be especially aware of your surroundings during a hike along the Sapsucker Woods trails. Local artist Anita Welych has created clay bas-relief plaques of Passenger Pigeons which are installed along the trails through September. Can you find them all?

The Passenger Pigeon story raises questions that reverberate to this day. Have we learned anything from this story? Are human activities still driving species to extinction? Is it too late to change? Though the Passenger Pigeon is extinct, along with so many other species, we’re asked to keep them alive in memory and build on that memory to preserve other species for the future.

Visitor information (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1572)