This species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man

Passenger pigeons looked like morning doves, but more colorful, with long tail feathers.

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John James Audubon, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1800, there were 5 billion in North America. Migrations could darken a Midwest sky. They were in such infinite and timeless abundance that the exciting technology of the Industrial Revolution was enthusiastically employed to kill them.

Telegraphs tapped out the details of their migration to hunters and the signals chased through wires across the great plains. Smoking pots of poison were placed beside mighty tree trunks at night and enormous roosts were gassed from peaceful oaks while they slept. The birds’ carcasses were shipped to market in rail car after rail car after rail car after rail car. Farmers bought two dozen birds for a dollar, and used passenger pigeons as hog feed.

In one human generation, America’s most populous native bird was wiped out. An Ohio boy unknowingly shot the last passenger pigeon in 1900. When told what he’d done, the boy wept.

There is a stone wall in Wisconsin’s Wyalusing State Park. On it is a bronze plaque of a bird. It reads:

Written by

Former WSJ reporter and syndicated columnist working in the blogosphere. Once sold books to Johnny Cash. My Medium post about that was praised by Paris Review.

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