The passenger pigeon, with the scientific name of Ectopistes migratorius, was at one time the most abundant bird in North America. With a population numbering in the billions during the 18th century, the sky would turn black as they flew overhead in flocks that contained hundreds of millions of pigeons. The large flocks were necessary so that they could successfully nest and find food.
People found the passenger pigeon to be a nuisance as when they nested, they would destroy the area by knocking down trees, stripping the food supply and layered the ground with droppings. This caused hunters to shoot down the pigeons which no one thought could ever go extinct due to their vast population. However, once the population of the flock dropped below the critical number, they weren’t able to reproduce with as much success and lost genetic variation, further speeding up their decline.
In 1900, the last confirmed sighting of a wild passenger pigeon was reported. Only a few remained in captivity at the time, and their extinction was all but certain. Miss Martha, who lived in the Cincinnati Zoo, was the last passenger pigeon left on Earth until her death in 1914. It’s rare that the exact date of extinction is known for species, but Miss Martha gives us the opportunity to promote the learning of biodiversity and how each species is important. Miss Martha has become a symbol for how even species with seemingly infinite populations can become extinct due to human negligence.
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