Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 1st, 1914...Martha found dead

Martha was unique and the last of her species...she was a Passenger Pigeon.

"Martha, Passenger Pigeon"

There were once billions of passenger pigeons in the United States. The last one was named Martha. She was born and raised -- and died -- at the Cincinnati Zoo.

In their heyday, passenger pigeons were everywhere. Migrating flocks took days to pass. Tree branches would break under their weight. The animal was tall and graceful, and could fly faster than a mile a minute. But it also tasted good, and the bird was relentlessly hunted.

By the time that Martha was a teenager, she had become a popular tourist attraction. It was clear that she was the last passenger pigeon, and scientists frantically tried to breed her, offering thousands of dollars to anyone who would come forward with a mate. They also tried in vain to breed her with other pigeon species.

On September 1, 1914, Martha was found dead at the bottom of her cage. Her body was packed in ice and sent to The National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC (Martha, while part of the collection, is not currently on display).

The Passenger Pigeon Memorial, a National Historic Landmark, is in a quiet corner of the Cincinnati Zoo. It displays a bronze of Martha, as well as the body of the last wild passenger pigeon ever seen -- which was shot by a boy in Sargents, Ohio.

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