This post is written by Helen James, Curator-in-Charge, Division of Birds, National Museum of Natural History. Ask Helen a question during our Twitterchat on Tuesday, September 2nd!
Martha, the last passenger pigeon, is back on public display for the first time since 1999, this time in an exhibition titled Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America that opened in the Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History on June 24. Martha died on September 1, 1914, in the Cincinnati Zoo; she was immediately frozen into a 300-pound block of ice and shipped by fast train to the Smithsonian in Washington. There her body was carefully preserved as a taxidermy mount and an anatomical specimen. She had been recognized in the last years of her life as the only surviving individual of a species that was the most abundant bird in North America only decades earlier. In death, she has become one of the Smithsonian’s most treasured specimens. Martha’s story was a wake-up call for our nation regarding its unregulated harvesting of natural resources and contributed to the development of our modern conservation ethic and laws protecting wildlife.