“On Martha’s Vineyard Island just across the Sound from the Marine Biological Laboratory is the home of the lone survivor of the Heath Hen. The death of this individual will also mean the death of its race, and then another bird will have taken its place among the endless array of extinct forms. The numbers of Heath Hen have been closely followed by ornithologists and since 1908 a detailed census has been taken of the birds each year. For the first time in the history of ornithology a species has been studied and photographed in its normal environment down to the very last individual.”
-Professor Alfred O Gross, Bowdoin College, as written in The Collecting Net: Volume 5, Number 3, 12 July 1930.
We came across a unique article, “The Last Heath Hen,” in the Biodiversity Heritage Library recently. The article from The Collecting Net newspaper is a beautifully-crafted account from 1930 of the then-last stand and near extinction of the last animal of the ground-feeding Heath Hen species (Tympanuchus cupido cupido), a member of the grouse family and subspecies of the Prairie Chicken. This species once ranged from Maine to the Carolinas in American colonial times and before but was all but extinct on the US mainland by 1870, except for it holding its own in the scrub brush, open fields, and low pine forests of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.