An article in New York State Conservationist includes Hobart and William Smith as among the institutions to contain specimens of the extinct species, the passenger pigeon. The birds are part of an extensive collection amassed by Elon Howard Eaton, who established the Colleges’ biology department. An article about Eaton’s collection is available on the Daily Update.
The New York State Conservationist article notes, “Once thought to be one of the most common birds in the world-at one time, one in four birds in North America was thought to be passenger pigeons-the population went from billions to none over the span of roughly 50 years.”
The article provides a list of locations throughout New York State where passenger pigeon specimens are on display, Eaton Hall at HWS among them.
The full article about the passenger pigeon and locations of existing specimens follows and is online.
New York State Conservationist
Celebrating the once-abundant passenger pigeon
Jeremy Taylor • October 2014
On September 1, 1914, a river of feathers ran dry. Martha, the last living passenger pigeon, had died. Martha’s passing at the Cincinnati Zoo marked the first time that we knew exactly-down to the hour-when a species went extinct.
Once estimated to number 3 to 5 billion strong (and some suggest as many as 9 billion), the passenger pigeon’s extinction was largely facilitated through market hunting for human food and the technological advances of the railroad and telegraph. Telegraphs allowed gunners to rapidly spread word about the location of flocks of the birds, and the railroads provided a means to both reach the flocks and to send the carcasses to cities for processing and distribution.
Flocks of passenger pigeons numbering in the millions or even billions once blocked out the sun for hours or days at a time, taking on the appearance of a vast feathered river moving across the sky. A colonial nester, the massive nesting colonies sometimes covered dozens or even hundreds of acres of forest. Large colonies of passenger pigeons could be found throughout the eastern and central United States, and into eastern Canada. A large colony once located near Tupper Lake was said to contain “hundreds of thousands of pigeons.”
For a fascinating overview of the passenger pigeon in NYS and the Adirondacks, see: “Extinction: Passenger Pigeons in the Adirondacks” in Adirondack Almanack. Once thought to be one of the most common birds in the world-at one time, one in four birds in North America was thought to be passenger pigeons-the population went from billions to none over the span of roughly 50 years.
In New York State, passenger pigeon bones have been found in several archeological sites; passenger pigeons also played an important role in the lives of the Seneca and other indigenous groups. With the expansion of the railroad westward, Buffalo became a center of the passenger pigeon trade.
You might be surprised to learn that there are more than a dozen locations throughout the state where specimens of passenger pigeons can be seen on display. Some are permanent displays; others are special displays put together for the centenary of Martha’s passing. Below is a list of some places that have pigeons on display.
Adirondack Museum (Blue Mountain Lake)-One passenger pigeon is on permanent display, on loan from the Pember Museum. Visit the Adirondack Museum website or call (518) 352-7311 for more information.
American Museum of Natural History (NYC)-Passenger pigeons are on display in the “Birds of NY” exhibit on the third floor, as well as in the Theodore Roosevelt rotunda and John Burroughs exhibit on the first floor. Visit the American Museum of Natural History website or call (212) 769-5100 for more information.
Buffalo Museum of Science (Buffalo)-At present, there are some specimens on exhibit in the “Digging into Western New York’s Past” gallery. In addition, a planned February 2015 display covering extinction will feature passenger pigeons. Visit the Buffalo Museum of Science website or call (716) 896-5200 for more information.
Cazenovia Public Library (Cazenovia)-One passenger pigeon is on display in the museum portion of the library. Visit the Cazenovia Public Library website or call (315) 655-9322 for more information.
Hamilton College (Clinton)-One mounted bird is on display outside a second floor classroom of the Taylor Science Center. Visit the Hamilton College website or call (315) 859-4011 for more information.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Geneva)-A display of passenger pigeons is located on the second floor of Eaton Hall. Visit the Hobart and William Smith Colleges website or call (315) 781-3000 for more information.
New York State Museum (Albany)-An exhibit entitled “The Passenger Pigeon-From Billions to Zero” runs through February 2015, and features mounted birds, eggs, bones and historical artifacts. In addition, a series of public talks regarding the passenger pigeon are also planned. Visit the New York State Museum website or call (518) 474-5877 for more information.
Patterson Library (Westfield)-There is one passenger pigeon on display in the art gallery portion of the library. Visit the Patterson Library website or call (716) 326-2154 for more information.
Pember Museum of Natural History (Granville)-Two passenger pigeons and some eggs are on permanent display; an exhibit on the centenary is currently featured. Visit the Pember Museum website or call (518) 642-1515 for more information.
Rochester Museum & Science Center (Rochester)-Currently displays a total of 18 real and 24 replica passenger pigeons, in addition to eggs, nets, and other artifacts. Visit the Rochester Museum & Science Center website or call (585) 271-4320 for more information.
Roger Tory Peterson Institute (Jamestown)-Three passenger pigeons are on display as part of a special exhibit to mark the centenary. Visit the Roger Tory Peterson Institute website or call (716) 665-2473 for more information.
Staten Island Museum (Staten Island)-There will be a special display at the front entrance for the centennial of the passing of Martha. In addition, the museum plans to include a passenger pigeon in the upcoming (September 2015, tentatively) “Remember the Mastodon” exhibit focused on extinction and biodiversity. Visit the Staten Island Museum website or call (718) 727-1135 for more information.
Trailside Museums and Zoo (Bear Mtn. State Park)-Two mounted specimens are on display in the Nature Study Museum. Visit the Trailside Museums and Zoo website or call (845) 786-2701 for more information.
Vanderbilt Museum (Centerport)-There are two passenger pigeons on permanent display. Visit the Vanderbilt Museum website or call (631) 854-5579 for more information.
Wells College (Aurora)-There are two passenger pigeons on display on the third floor of the science building, Stratton Hall. Visit the Wells College website or call (315) 364-3266 for more information.
A native of Greene County, Jeremy Taylor has been an avid birder since first being introduced to the hobby as a child. He is Editor of Conservationist for Kids.
For Further Reading
The story of the passenger pigeon has been documented in two newly released books: A Feathered River Across the Sky by Joel Greenberg, and A Message From Martha by Mark Avery (both are 2014 releases from Bloomsbury Publishing), as well as the upcoming Princeton University Press release of Errol Fuller’s The Passenger Pigeon. Their plight is also documented in the film “From Billions to None,” planned for fall 2014 release, which is part of the larger Passenger Pigeon Project. Past Conservationist articles on passenger pigeons can be found in the April 1953, February 1975, and April 1996 issues.
*New – October 10, 2014 – After going to press, we learned of another display that we wanted to let you know about. The Jamestown Audubon Center and Sanctuary (Jamestown) has a permanent exhibit of historical bird specimens, which includes a passenger pigeon. Visit the Jamestown Audubon Center and Sanctuary website or call (716) 569-2345 for more information.
For a graphical representation of the locations of passenger pigeon displays in New York State, see our interactive map.