Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future




Flights of Fancy

The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and the Death of Martha: A Turning Point in Conservation

Violet Schramm

I originally began my research as an assignment to investigate a "turning point" in history.” My interest in Martha began many years ago when I was very young and visited the Cincinnati Zoo, where I would see the memorial dedicated to her. I was intrigued by this memorial which was dedicated to a single bird and, ultimately, it inspired me to learn more about who Martha was.

Although Martha was treasured and well cared for, her life of solitude as the last of her kind captured my heart. As my research developed, I was shocked to learn that passenger pigeons were the most numerous bird in North America and had become extinct within a relatively short period of time due entirely to human activity. Martha also captured the public’s interest while she was alive but by then it was too late to save the species.

After I completed my research, I presented it in the form of a documentary because it allowed me to tell a story. My documentary won the Chronicling America and Ohio Memory Digital Resources Award for the use of Primary Resources in Columbus, Ohio, on April 27, 2013. This award sparked interest in my film and I was asked to present it at the Weston Art Gallery and speak to the audience. I was also asked to present my documentary at the preliminary meeting for Martha’s Mural. Martha, The Last Passenger Pigeon, is a mural that is being painted by ArtWorks in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is based on John Ruthven’s painting of the same name. At the meeting, I was fortunate to meet John Ruthven, who also sponsored and saved Martha’s aviary slated for destruction in 1974. I was invited to help paint the mural with John Ruthven and ArtWorks. I have enjoyed being involved in events to commemorate Martha that have taken place in Cincinnati, the city where she lived and died. I’ve contacted the Schleich Company in the hopes that they will produce a figure of the passenger pigeon to commemorate Martha. If they are produced, the figures may inspire others t learn more about Martha and, ultimately, current conservation efforts.

My hope is that Martha is never forgotten. I also hope we will never forget that extinction is irreversible and the subsequent consequences can be far-reaching and unpredictable because of the not always understood, intricate, interconnections of an ecosystem.

Link to the video:

Violet Schramm is a 14 year-old high school freshman who is deeply interested in both movie making and birds and has been a volunteer with Teen Recruits Inspiring By Example (T.R.I.B.E.),a program at the Cincinnati Zoo, since 2012.
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