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Passenger Pigeon

Source: illustration by John James Audubon

In 1809, John James Audubon made this color sketch of a passenger pigeon in Ohio. In Volume 1 of his Birds of America, published in 1827, Audubon would write at length on the passenger pigeon and include a much more fully realized painting of a male and female.

The passenger pigeon or is an extinct North American bird. It was once the most abundant bird in North America, and possibly the world.

Some reduction in numbers occurred from habitat loss when European settlement led to mass deforestation. Next, pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive and mechanized scale. A slow decline between about 1800 and 1870 was followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890. Martha, thought to be the world's last passenger pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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