But it could be the most important.
On the top shelf of a glass display cabinet sits a mounted specimen of a male passenger pigeon. Museum curator
That makes sense, considering today marks the 100-year anniversary of when the last passenger pigeon died and the species became extinct.
"It's an honor for us," said Pfeifer. "It's something that a lot of people don't realize we have here."
When the last passenger pigeon -- a female named Martha that was kept at the
Locally, passenger pigeon nesting colonies were reported in
The passenger pigeon's extinction is largely the result of unregulated subsistence and market hunting. It was killed in such large numbers that carcasses filled train cars. Even the young, called squabs, weren't spared, according to Gross. When a nesting colony was located, squabs were captured and packed into barrels to be shipped to cities, where they were considered a delicacy.
And even when it was apparent the passenger pigeon was destined for extinction, Gross said there was a rush to keep killing the birds as people wanted mounted specimens for their collections.
The passenger pigeon isn't the only extinct species that is on display at the
The Carolina parakeet was declared extinct in 1939, and Pfeifer said it was killed for its vibrant green feathers, which were used for women's hats. The Ivory-billed woodpecker was believed to have gone extinct in the mid-20th Century, although there were unverified accounts of sightings in
For Gross, who works with numerous threatened and endangered species in the state, the story of the passenger pigeon remains difficult to comprehend.
"It hits me pretty hard," he said. "The most abundant bird in
The passenger pigeon was about three times larger than a mourning dove and its diet consisted primarily of beechnuts, acorns and American chestnuts. Gross said there is evidence of the passenger pigeon existing in 44 counties in the state and the last reported sightings were in 1906.
"This was really a game bird that, had it persisted, would've been very important to this day," Gross said. "There are so many lessons that can be learned from its extinction and it also emphasizes the important of keeping common birds, common."
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