The passenger pigeon was once the most common bird in North America, found most prevalently around the Great Lakes region. The birds lived and migrated in huge flocks, and estimates of their population swelled to about three billion in the early 1800s -- and perhaps as many as five billion when America was first settled by Europeans, according to noted ornithologist Arlie Schorger. But the passenger pigeon’s time on Earth was fleeting, and by 1900 there were none left in the wild. Scientists suggest that the systematic clearing of deciduous forests in the northeastern United States, along with over-hunting by native people and European settlers, wiped them out in less than a century.
The life and times of the passenger pigeon:
- On September 1, 1914, the last passenger pigeon in captivity -- a bird known as Martha -- was found dead at the Cincinnati Zoo.
- Passenger pigeons preferred acorns, beechnuts, and other forest edibles, and their roosting numbers were so great that trees would crack under their communal weight.
- DNA research in 2014 classified the passenger pigeon as an “outbreak species,” similar to the explosions of species such as Australian plague locusts and lemmings, and predestined to live a boom-and-bust existence.