New exhibit looks at the passing of the passenger pigeon

A century after its extinction, the passenger pigeon is gone but not forgotten.

“From Billions to Zero,” a new exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, tells the story of this once plentiful pigeon. It will be on display through September.

At one time, there were flocks of passenger pigeons that numbered in the millions. When they flew overhead, they blocked out the sun. Because they were so common, passenger pigeons were used as fertilizer and fed to livestock.

A billion passenger pigeons remained in 1860; by 1900, almost none were left. The last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914.

The Peabody exhibit features three bird specimens from the museum’s collections, plus a nest and an egg. The specimens are an adult male passenger pigeon, an adult female, and a juvenile male. The exhibit also includes a photo of Martha.

Many view the passing of the passenger pigeon as a key example of humankind’s potential impact on even the most abundant species.