Martha was named after George Washington’s wife. It is fitting that she was named for the first lady; after all, she was the last lady of her species.
Martha was the last passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migtratorius) on earth. She died 100 years ago at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens. Immediately after her death, she was packed in a 300-pound block of ice and shipped to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. There she was made into a taxidermy mount and put on display. (Reminiscent of the treasure crated and warehoused in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”)
In reality, the passenger pigeon met its demise long before Martha’s death in 1914, long before a country boy in Pike County, Ohio, shot the last wild bird in 1900. The end of the passenger pigeon occurred when people had the notion that no matter how long they shot at the millions of these birds in the sky, or how many they killed, they would never run out.
People spoke of, and wrote about the vast flocks of passenger pigeons when Europeans first arrived on this continent. These birds actually made up to 40 percent of all of the land birds of North America. Their flocks numbered in the billions, “sometimes eclipsing the sun from noon until nightfall. Flying sixty miles an hour, they migrated across their geographic range, which stretched from the northeastern and mid-western states and into Canada to the southern states,” according to FoldtheFlock.org. It is inconceivable that in less than 50 years from when the shooting began, billions of passenger pigeons were wiped off the planet.
There is a group of people trying to bring awareness of this centennial anniversary to light as a reminder to the consequences of our actions. FoldtheFlock.org has a downloadable origami sheet (both color and black/white) for you to fold your own passenger pigeon.
Fold the Flock is an initiative of The Lost Bird Project, an arts-based environmental nonprofit that connects people more deeply with the earth through art. They believe art can touch people in a way that ideas and intellect alone cannot. It is the hope that Fold the Flock will encourage further projects and increase sensitivity to the plight of endangered species.
I encourage nature centers, Scouts, home schools, other groups and individuals to check out the Fold the Flock website for more information and for the download for the passenger pigeon origami. Once you have made your origami, you can go back to the website and log how many pigeons you created. Your group’s name will be recorded on the website for all to see.
This is one step to bring awareness for the passenger pigeon – a species now extinct. The next step is to start working for species that are near extinction and to stop the killing before we count their last few numbers.
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, a residential energy client service coordinator certified by the National Energy Retrofit Institute, and a past nature center manager with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.