First posted on 09-12-2014
by Dan Zarlenga
Their numbers were boundless. Swirling past like an avian tornado, they eclipsed the sun and darkened the sky with the thunder of an impending storm. They were North America’s most abundant bird. No one could imagine a world without them.
Then, like the passing of a breeze, the sky was quiet. And they were gone . . . wiped out of existence in less than a century.
Exploited and taken for granted, billions of passenger pigeons lost the battle against unregulated hunting during the 1800s. The Earth’s last passenger pigeon, Martha, passed away in the Cincinnati Zoo the evening of Sept. 1, 1914.
Her species was lost forever, but her demise helped kindle the 20th Century conservation movement.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Rockwoods Reservation will present a special program, Remembering the Passenger Pigeon, on Saturday, Sept. 27, from 3:30-8 p.m. The event is free and open to all ages.
Visitors will have the chance to see a passenger pigeon once again.
“There will be an amazing opportunity at the Rockwoods event to view a preserved mount of an actual passenger pigeon on loan from the St. Louis Science Center,” said MDC Volunteer Naturalist Angie Jungbluth.
Jungbluth is helping to organize the program with her husband, Aaron, who is also an MDC volunteer naturalist.
“When I was in grade school, one of my teachers brought in a real mount of a passenger pigeon to school for a week,” she explained. “That lit the fire in me - all these years later - to hold an event that would both honor its loss and celebrate our current conservation success stories, thanks to the Missouri Department of Conservation.”
Among the afternoon’s activities, Jungbluth said there will be a chance for visitors to judge an art contest honoring the passenger pigeon. Nine local artists have created their own rendition of the bird in watercolor, oil, and a mosaic. Participants at the event can vote on their favorite.
The exhibit was displayed and open for voting at the Audubon Center at Riverlands in August, and is currently featured at Rockwoods Reservation. The evening’s votes, along with those gathered previously, will be tallied and awards for the first, second, and third place winners will be announced the at the event.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their own favorite picnic foods, drinks, blankets and chairs and take advantage of the area’s many picnic facilities. The schedule of activities for the event will include:
• 3:30-5:30 p.m.—Crafts, games and educational booths
• 5:30-6:30 p.m.—World Bird Sanctuary live raptor flight demonstration
• 6:30-8 p.m.—Announcement of the art contest winners, and a presentation about the passenger pigeon
• 8 p.m.—Outdoor showing of the original film Dr. Suess’ The Lorax
Though it saddens her to think that the passenger pigeons are gone forever, Jungbluth hopes the passing of Martha will remain a constructive lesson for the future. She said the event will emphasize successful conservation stories and how wise use of natural resources will make things better for generations to come.
“I am ecstatic with the fabulous work that the Missouri Department of Conservation is conducting to save endangered and threatened species,” Jungbluth said. “MDC’s work gives me hope for the future! We will be highlighting some of the past and current projects at the event that are creating a brighter future for Missouri’s wildlife.”
Rockwoods Reservation is located in Wildwood at 2751 Glencoe Road, off Highway 109 between I-44 and Highway 100.
For more information on the Remembering the Passenger Pigeon event, call 636-458-2236 or visit mdc.mo.gov/node/272.
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