On September 2nd, 2014, the day after the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, the Smithsonian Libraries , National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) hosted a twitterchat in honor of the beloved bird. The chat featured Helen James, Curator in Charge of the Division of Birds at NMNH and Martin Kalfatovic, program director of BHL, who contributed for their respective organizations.
Folks from around the twitterverse were encouraged to contribute and ask questions via #Martha100. Over 700 tweets featured the #Martha100 hashtag from over 300 users. Those tweets reached an estimated 1.8 million people!
As one can guess, a great deal of our conversation focused on Martha (a National Museum of Natural History specimen and current star of “Once There Were Billions“), and the extinct species of the passenger pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius. We learned that although some think Martha was named for George Washington’s wife, others actually question the eponym. Tweeters also discussed the species’ closest living relative, which is the band-tailed pigeon, not the common pigeon.
“Ectopistes migratorius” means “wandering and migrating” #Martha100
— Smithsonian Archives (@SmithsonianArch) September 2, 2014
We explored some less obvious factors in the extinction of the passenger pigeon, like the advent of rail roads. Participants also chatted about the consequences our environment faced as a result of the loss of the passenger pigeon, including a possible tie to Lyme disease.
Conservation also turned to conservation, with an emphasis on what natural history museums and related organizations can do to help. We also discussed the importance of taxonomic literature in preserving the history of biodiversity.
— Dave Ireland (@davehireland) September 2, 2014
— BHL (@BioDivLibrary) September 2, 2014
It was a lively and educational hour and we would like to thank everyone who participated! It was especially nice to be joined by our colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Field Museum and Project Passenger Pigeon. For a larger overview of the discussion, with captures of many of the actual tweets, please visit our Storify page. And if you’re not following us on Twitter yet, what are you waiting for? We are @SILibraries and we would love to hear from you!