The passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was a unique species and was probably the most horrible example of human-caused extinction in history. There had been around three to five billion passenger pigeons, the total number of birds to be found in the United States today. The last passenger pigeon alive, named Martha, died on September 1, 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Humans have always had a huge impact on their surroundings and when the Europeans arrived in North America in the 1630s, the population of the passenger pigeon started decreasing rapidly. At that time it was one of the most abundant birds in the world and they could be seen flying in flocks for four or five hours at a time during their migration season in the early spring, from the south to their breeding areas. With a huge population like this, how could these birds become extinct so quickly? The reason simply lies in us, as in humans.
Passenger pigeons were made for flight. It is estimated that they could reach speeds up to 70 mph or even faster. Their long graceful wings were blue, and the pointed 8 to 9 inch tail was white and gray. The average weight of these pigeons was 340–400 grams and its length was 42 cm in males and 38 cm in females. These birds had no natural predators apart from hawks and eagles, however, each female only laid one egg a year and they travelled in such big numbers that they were very easy to attack. The birds consumed acorns, chestnuts and beech nuts which were found in the woodlands of North America and when these woodlands were steadily cut down their habitat and food supplies were reduced.
There are a number of things that the humans have done to push the passenger pigeons toward extinction. One of the causes was extensive commercial hunting carried out by trappers and shippers, to ship the birds to cities on the east coast of the United States. They were also caught for agricultural fertilizer as well as live targets...