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America’s Most Infamous Extinction: Centennial Anniversary of Passenger Pigeon’s Disappearance


August 25, 2014 

Contact: Melanie Gade; mgade@defenders.org; (202) 772-0288

America’s Most Infamous Extinction: Centennial Anniversary of Passenger Pigeon’s Disappearance

WASHINGTON – One hundred years ago on September 1st, the last remaining passenger pigeon – “Martha” took her final breath, marking the end of a bird species that was once the most abundant in North America. It was America’s first infamous extinction and remains one of the most tragic examples of human-caused extinction in our nation’s history.

The passenger pigeon once numbered as many as 5 billion. The bird was so numerous passing flocks were said to darken the skies. Nonetheless, the bird’s population crashed and disappeared within a span of 50 years. The causes were excessive hunting and habitat destruction; some of the same factors that continue to threaten imperiled wildlife today. Fortunately, nearly 60 years after the bird’s extinction, Congress took a significant step to ensure that avoidable tragedies like the passenger pigeon extinction never happen again when it enacted the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to save plants and animals facing extinction.

On the occasion of this tragic anniversary, Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

“This nation enacted the ESA so that we would never again experience a loss like the passenger pigeon, a human-caused extinction that could have been prevented. Indeed, had the ESA been in place in the late 19th century, it likely would have saved the passenger pigeon. Though the  ESA came too late to save Martha’s species, today we can look to it as a statement of America’s commitment to protecting our nation’s imperiled wildlife and plants for future generations.

“Sadly, even after all we’ve learned about the critical importance of this landmark law, the ESA is on the chopping block in Congress once again. Too often, we have seen members of Congress move to dismantle key pieces of the ESA and gut protections for imperiled wildlife, rejecting the very conservation values that are the foundation of the ESA. It’s my hope that the haunting anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction will remind our political leaders of what we have to lose from continued reckless attacks on the ESA. Truly, if there was ever a time to renew our nation’s defining values for conservation, it is on the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s demise.”


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.