A cautionary tale in a small glass case



IMG_0052Tucked away on the second floor of the Redpath Museum, behind the fearsome Gorgosaurus libratus (dreadful lizard) skeleton and armoured Triceratops skull, is a display case containing a small, grey bird mounted on a branch. It is a passenger pigeon, and this year marks a sad anniversary for its kind. Just 100 years ago, the last surviving passenger pigeon died and the species passed into history.

From five billion to zero in a few short years
It hardly seems possible. Only a few decades before, the population of passenger pigeons was over five billion. So numerous were these dove-like birds that they literally darkened the skies on their annual migrations. Settlers saw the passenger pigeon as an easy source of food. Their feathers were also used to stuff mattresses and pillows. In just a few decades, uncontrolled hunting, plus the destruction of eastern North American forests had brought the passenger pigeon to the verge of extinction. By 1900, no wild birds were left, and in 1914, the last passenger pigeon in captivity died.

The fate of the passenger pigeon illustrates how careless resource exploitation can have disastrous consequences. The Redpath Museum’s on-line exhibition on the passenger pigeon contains links showing how McGill scientists are working to protect other endangered species in Canada.



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