THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Imagine a breed of bird, whose numbers counted in the billions at one point in time, disappearing totally from the face of the earth within 100 years! Tuesday, September 1, marked the 101st year of the extinction of the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), once considered the most abundant bird in the world.
A unique, week-long photo exhibition on the passenger pigeon opened at the Russian Cultural Centre in the city on Tuesday to mark the anniversary. The occasion and the exhibition was also utilised to create awareness about other bird species which are facing a similar fate.
The exhibition is being organised jointly by bird lovers and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ).
“Commercial exploitation for their meat and rampant deforestation led to their extinction,” said P K Uthaman. “Some birds simply cannot adapt to changing environments. So you can’t say they will survive just because they are large population-wise,” he said. The passenger pigeons were endemic to the North American continent and were reported to be present upto Mexico in the south. “But they mostly inhabited the Atlantic coast and the mid-west,” said Uthaman. “They flew in massive flocks. In fact, one such flock was said to have contained 2.3 billion birds,” he said.
With a tapering tail, the male of the species is about 39 to 41 cms long, while the female is slightly smaller, 38 to 40 cm in length. Nowadays, when this bird is mentioned the name that springs to mind is of ‘Martha’, the last of the passenger pigeons. The bird was named after Martha Washington, the wife of US president George Washington, and it died at the Cincinatti Zoo on September 1, 1914.
The exhibition has rare sketches of the bird, photographs of other species that face extinction and photos of bird taken by local photographers. KUWJ has plans to purchase these photographs and open a gallery at its office.