At the start of the nineteenth century, Passenger Pigeons were perhaps the most abundant birds on the planet, numbering literally in the billions. The flocks were so large and so dense that they blackened the skies, even blotting out the sun for days at a stretch. Yet by the end of the century, the most common bird in North America had vanished from the wild. In 1914, the last known representative of her species, Martha, died in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo.
This stunningly illustrated book tells the astonishing story of North America's Passenger Pigeon, a bird species that – like the Tyrannosaur, the Mammoth, and the Dodo – has become one of the great icons of extinction. Errol Fuller describes how these fast, agile, and handsomely plumaged birds were immortalized by the ornithologist and painter John James Audubon, and captured the imagination of writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark Twain. He shows how widespread deforestation, the demand for cheap and plentiful pigeon meat, and the indiscriminate killing of Passenger Pigeons for sport led to their catastrophic decline. Fuller provides an evocative memorial to a bird species that was once so important to the ecology of North America, and reminds us of just how fragile the natural world can be.
Published in the centennial year of Martha's death, The Passenger Pigeon features rare archival images as well as haunting photos of live birds.
The annals of extinction 12
The bird 28
The downward spiral 48
Extinction: the causes 70
The last captives 90
Art and books 122
Appendix: a magnificent flying machine 162
Further reading 172
Errol Fuller is an acclaimed artist and writer, and a world authority on bird and animal extinction. His many books include Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, Extinct Birds, and Dodo: From Extinction to Icon.
"[...] easy to read and thought-provoking, and will be of interest to anyone concerned about conservation today. Although much progress has been made in the intervening century, our actions continue to threaten wildlife, and this story reminds us that even common species may not be safe from the effects of human activity."
- Ian Woodward, BTO book reviews
"[...] The Passenger Pigeon is an excellent introduction to this bird, what made it so special, and the tragedy of its extinction. If you want to learn about the Passenger Pigeon, or just enjoy the art and photographs, then I’d highly recommend it. Afterward, if you’d like to delve deeper into the subject, you can continue with A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction."
- Grant McCreary (28-10-2014), read the full review at The Birder's Library