2014 is the centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. It was almost three years ago that thirty or so people convened at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum from around the country to discuss this poignant milestone. They represented a range of institutions including Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History. We were there to formulate plans to mark the 2014 anniversary of the pigeon's extinction. What emerged was Project Passenger Pigeon (soon given the shorthand moniker “P3”) with the 3 part mission of familiarizing people with the passenger pigeon as a species and a phenomenon, using that story as a portal into consideration as current issues related to extinction and humanity’s connections nature, and the need to create sustainable relations with other organisms.
Project Passenger Pigeon Logo
A lot has happened since that first meeting. Over 160 organizations have formally joined P3 with many contributing content to our website, passengerpigeon.org and planning for public activities throughout 2014. In addition to these institutional members, many individuals are planning commemorative activities. Joel Greenberg and Steve Sullivan have talked to a wide range of special interest and professional groups over the last year, ranging from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to the Illinois Science Teachers Association and many individuals in such groups have let us know that they intend to spread the message of P3 through their own activities like newsletters, art projects, and even library story time.
Passenger Pigeon Specimen
Other far-reaching P3 projects that are nearing completion include the documentary From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction directed by David Mrazek. This documentary will likely air on public TV stations across the US. In addition to a compelling depiction of the passenger pigeon story, it features some Academy passenger pigeon specimens. Also, Stan Temple has been working with students at the University of Wisconsin to digitize all known sightings of the passenger pigeon. This data set should be of interest both to people with a casual interest in extinct species as well as scientist looking to better understand how such a wide-ranging and numerous species could have gone extinct so quickly. School teachers will also be able to use these data in classroom lessons that use the interesting stories of biology to teach mathematical concepts.
Joel Greenberg's new book
At the Nature Museum we will begin the year’s activities on January 23 with a reception for the new book A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction. by renown Chicagoland author, Joel Greenberg. You can hear stories about his journey to gather information for the book and learn about his most important discovery—that of a previously undocumented specimen of passenger pigeon. This specimen was right here in Illinois at Millikin University. We are fortunate to also have David Horn from Millikin to show this well-preserved specimen to the audience. Not only is it a beautifully preserved mount, it is now the last known wild bird. Following the brief presentation, visitors will be able to view the bird and Joel will sign his book. If you’ve never read a Greenberg book, don’t take our word for it that he’s a great writer, you can read reviews in places like The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Reader, and Maclean’s or listen to interviews ranging from local (The Mike Nowak Show) to international (the Diane Rehm Show) and international (Newstalk Ireland).
Todd McGrain Sculpture
Later we will post details about some of our other P3 activities including a new exhibit in March Nature’s Struggle: Survival and Extinction, a large art installation by Todd McGrain, and a weekend symposium in May Why Prevent Extinction? that will feature exciting speakers like entomologist May Berenbaum and ecologist Joel Brown. In the meantime, stop by to see some beautiful watercolors by Kristina Knowski that depict passenger pigeons as well as ivory-billed woodpeckers and Carolina parakeets.