If you live in Western North Carolina, you’ve come across so many natural features called pigeon: Pigeon Gorge, Pigeon River, Pigeon Forge (OK, that’s in Tennessee). All those places were named after the passenger pigeon.
This is not your ordinary street pigeon that you see everywhere underfoot.
The story of the passenger pigeon is unlike that of any other bird. With a likely population between 3 and 5 billion, it was the most abundant bird in North America and probably the world. Yet human exploitation drove this species to extinction over the course of a few decades. Hunters shot it to extinction, claiming that it was a pest which ate their crops. That was probably true as well.
Here’s what John Jay Audubon said about the passenger pigeon”
The air was literally
filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the
dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz
of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.”…
But by 1914, the bird was extinct. The last bird had died. 2014 marks the centenary of this extraordinary extinction. An organization called Project Passenger Pigeon wants us to remember the pigeon and use it as a lesson in species survival and encourage biodiversity.
I learned about the exact date of the passing of the passenger pigeon at a Great Smoky Mountains Association meeting yesterday. GSMA manages the bookstores in and around the National Park. They want to offer something that will bring awareness to this extinction-a plush toy, maybe. I don’t know how that will compete with the bears in various sizes that all the Smokies Stores have.
But you can’t just forget about this pigeon. We have all these features in our area that keep reminding us that one hundred years ago, we still had passenger pigeons.