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A hundred years after passenger pigeons went extinct due to human influence, geneticists are considering trying to bring the once plentiful bird back from the dead.
Passenger pigeons were once the most abundant bird in the world. Famously, in 1866 one flock of pigeons, 300 feet long and one mile wide, took 14 hours to fly over the sky of Ontario. The prevalence of these birds made them easy targets for people who needed some cheap sustenance, as reported by the Associated Press.
Combined with the natural ups and downs of passenger pigeon population, explored in a study from the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, the number of pigeons dangerously dwindled.
By the 20th century, there was just a single passenger pigeon left, kept in captivity, named Martha. She died in 1914, marking the complete extinction of the passenger pigeon.
Helen James, who curates birds at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, said to the Associated Press, “This was a real wake-up call for the public and frankly for scientists too. Ornithologists studied birds and they didn’t really think of species becoming extinct.” This extinction symbolized the massive impact humans can have on the natural world.
In modern times, a non-profit organization known as Revive and Restore hopes to reverse that impact by bringing the passenger pigeon back from extinction. Their program, known as The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback, hopes to bring the passenger pigeon back using DNA obtained from museum passenger pigeon samples and the passenger pigeon’s close relatives, according to the International Business Times.