The passenger pigeon’s demise is one of the most infamous examples of human-caused extinction. Once the most abundant bird species in North America, it was hunted relentlessly, with large-scale commercial hunting facilitated by railroad distribution placing excessive pressure on the species. The population declined from billions to none in less than one hundred years.
The last passenger pigeon, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden at about 1pm on September 1, 1914.
While stories of passenger pigeon flocks blackening the skies underscore the species’ once staggering abundance, its distribution was concentrated in the eastern United States. But could there have been resident populations in the western U.S.?
Passenger pigeon bones uncovered from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California inspired Dr. Libby Ellwood to ask this very question and embark on a research project empowered by the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s collections.