episode 3

Passenger pigeon

North America, around 1810

published the 12th January, 2016



The very last Passenger pigeon was a female called Martha. She died in a zoo in Cincinatti, Ohio, on September 1, 1914, at one in the afternoon. The zoo’s last male had died four years before. Martha lived to the ripe old age of twenty-nine. There is a small memorial to her at the zoo.

Reasons for the extinction

While hunters did kill tens of thousands of birds every day, hunting was doubtless not the sole cause of the extinction. It is thought that when the size of the flocks dropped below a certain level, the birds were no longer able to find sufficient food to guarantee survival. Their reproductive cycle also likely depended on the large number of individuals. Once it was realised that passenger pigeon numbers were dropping, it was probably already too late to reverse the process leading to extinction.

Flying pies

Passenger pigeons were tasty. Their French name was Tourte voyageuse, or flying pie. In Quebec, they were turned into meat pies called tourtières that are now made with game or pork.

Extinct birds

Over 190 bird species have become extinct since 1500. The vast majority of such extinctions, from the Saint Helena petrel to the dodo of Mauritius, can be attributed to human activity. 1,200 species are thought to be currently facing extinction.



  1. Wikipedia (Passenger pigeon article)
  2. Wikipedia (article about Martha)
  3. Wikipedia (list of recently extincted birds)


  1. Jean-Christophe Balouet et Eric Alibert, Le grand livre des espèces disparues, Ed. Ouest France, 1989, 195 p.
  2. W.B.Mershon, The Passenger Pigeon, the outing press, 1907, 220p.