At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, in a large glass case, “is a rusty-brown bird, wings mottled black and gray, mounted to appear as if she’s perching on a stick.”:
Her name is Martha. She was a passenger pigeon, the last of her kind, and she is one of the most famous birds in the world.
Martha died at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens on September 1, 1914. To recognize the full 100 years since her death, she’s been taken out of a locked safe in the Smithsonian’s research collection and put on public display—her first public appearance since 1999. “She’s one of the Smithsonian’s most iconic specimens,” Helen James, curator of the bird division, says. “We had to have her back before her public in the year 2014.”
“Immediately after Martha’s body was discovered in the Cincinnati Zoo, scientists” packed her “into a 300-pound block of ice, then onto a train bound for Washington. Smithsonian officials received her three days later in “fine condition,” according to an account written by R.W. Shufeldt, the man who performed her dissection.”
Shufeldt, in an article published by the American Ornithologists’ Union, wrote: “With the final throb of that heart, still another bird became extinct for all time, the last representative of countless millions and unnumbered generations of its kind practically exterminated through man’s agency.”
The passenger pigeon was once “the most common bird in North America,” flying in flocks of “hundreds of millions, if not billions.”
Until the hunters came.