September 1st, 2014 was the centenary of one of the best-documented extinctions in history – the demise of the Passenger Pigeon. From being the commonest bird on the planet 50 years earlier, the species became extinct with the death in Cincinatti Zoo of Martha, the last of her kind.
A Message from Martha marks the centenary of that tragic event. Built around the framework of a visit to the pigeon's former haunts in eastern North America by author Mark Avery, it tells the tale of the pigeon, and of Martha, and explores the largely untold story of the ecological annihilation of this part of America in the years between the end of the US Civil War and 1900. This period saw an unprecedented loss of natural beauty and richness, as forests were felled and the prairies were ploughed, swiftly to be replaced by a dustbowl, while wildlife was slaughtered indiscriminately.
Written engagingly and with an element of travelogue as well as historical detective work, A Message from Martha is more than another depressing tale of human greed and ecological stupidity. It contains an underlying message – that we need to re-forge our relationship with the natural world on which we depend, and plan a more sustainable future. Otherwise the tipping point will be crossed and more species will go the way of the Passenger Pigeon. We should listen to the message from Martha.
Mark Avery is a scientist by training and a naturalist by inclination. He writes about and comments on environmental issues and is the author of Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands, Behind the Binoculars, Fighting for Birds, Blogging for Nature, and Birds and Forestry. Mark worked for the RSPB for 25 years before standing down in April 2011; he was the RSPB's Conservation Director for nearly 13 years. Mark lives in rural Northamptonshire.
"This heart-wrenching saga of extinctions old and new is as much about us as of disappearing doves."
– Chris Packham
"a riveting new book [...] a dark but fascinating chronicle of how human greed can have incalculable consequences in the natural world"
– The Independent
"an entertaining book [...] told with humour and disarming self-deprecation"
– Country Life
"[...] A Message from Martha: The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and Its Relevance Today is an impassioned plea to learn from what was done to the Passenger Pigeon so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. As a book, I was slightly disappointed in it. It felt like a great concept that was drawn out a little too much. But it is informative, especially to those not already familiar with the tale of the Passenger Pigeon. And, more importantly, it is a crucial message; one that I hope finds a widespread audience."
– Grant McCreary (09-02-2015), read the full review at The Birder's Library
"[...] This is an individual book, written by one of the most passionate conservationists of his generation. I find it a compelling read that I think will appeal to a wide range of people as it covers so much ground from ecology to history and population biology to travel writing. Although clearly written for a UK audience, it would be a shame if that meant it was not also read more widely, particularly in America. I would therefore encourage all who are interested in species conservation, to read Mark Avery’s message from Martha."
– James Pearce-Higgins, BTO news, September 2014