The Sad Story of Martha, the Last of her Breed

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

On the morning of Sept. 1, 1914, a worker at the Cincinnati Zoo started on his rounds to feed the birds. His favorite was Martha, a 29-year-old Passenger Pigeon. To his horror, he found Martha's cold, stiff body lying on the bottom of her cage. The last Passenger Pigeon was dead. With her demise, the breed was wiped out forever. Her stuffed body is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution In Washington. Amazingly, it took only 40 years from the time the pigeon was the most abundant bird on earth until its extinction.

Many confuse the Passenger Pigeon with the Homing Pigeon. There is no connection. The former is so named because of its tremendous speed migrating from The Gulf of Mexico to Canada. There were from two- to five-billion birds at their zenith. John James Audubon wrote about the Pigeons (also called Wild Pigeons) he encountered on a trip from his home in Henderson, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky.

"In the autumn of 1813, I left my house at Henderson, on the banks of the Ohio, on my way to LouisvilleA few miles beyond Hardensburgh, I observed the Pigeons flying in greater numbers than I thought I had ever seen them before I traveled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse."

If you would like to read the entire article, it is here: See Audubon's painting of the Pigeon here:

Janice and Ralph Jutte researched the history of their farm and wrote about it on their web site: Here's a summary: "Pigeon Roost Farm was the original name of this 80-acre farm, dating back to the mid-1800s. It was named for the Passenger Pigeon-once the most abundant bird in the world-that frequented this area.

As they searched for food, they traveled in huge flocks that could blot out the sun, and whose sound reminded people of Niagara Falls. The birds could easily fly at 60 mph. As they searched for food, they traveled in huge flocks that could blot out the sun, and whose sound reminded people of Niagara Falls.

"When they rested, the traveling pigeons liked woods with large trees; here in Ohio they preferred swamps. One such area was "Pigeon Swamp," down the hill behind our farm. As difficult as it is to imagine, a roosting area could easily contain millions of birds. The birds could get so thick that branches and even entire trees crashed to the ground.

"Passenger Pigeons were beautiful birds.They had bright orange eyes, grey-blue heads, wings, and tails, with shiny violet feathers on their backs and breast feathers a deeper red than those of a robin. Not only were they more attractive, but they were also much larger than city pigeons: Their bodies measured 1.5 feet long and they carried a wingspan of over 2 feet.

"Passenger Pigeons became popular cuisine on the East Coast, and excessive hunting limited their numbers. The last large flock was seen in Ohio around 1885; then, in 1900, a young boy from Pike County killed the last wild Passenger Pigeon with a BB gun he received for Christmas. Fortunately, a small colony of pigeons remained in the Cincinnati Zoo, but they never produced any young and gradually died off."

"...It is in the spirit of remembrance that we are pleased to continue the name of Pigeon Roost Farm."