The Passing of the Passenger Pigeon

Mark Ford

This bird used to be the most numerous on earth
And to blot out the sun for hours over Wisconsin and Michigan
And to strip bare the great forests of cranberries, pine-nuts, and acorns.

Whole trees toppled under the weight of roosting birds. In flight
They made a sound like Niagara Falls. Horses trembled,
And travellers made wild guesses at their numbers and meaning.

The bird’s sad demise is chronicled on many websites. Children
Visit these for homework, and learn how far and fast the passenger pigeon
Flew, and that its breast was red, and head and rump slate blue.

As the opulent sun set, raccoon-hatted hunters would gather with pots
Of sulphur, and clubs and poles and ladders; in a trice they’d transform the dung-
Heaped forest floor into a two-foot carpet of smouldering pigeon.

Being so common, they sold in the city for only a few pence a dozen.
Farmers fed them to their pigs. By the century’s end they had all
But joined the Great Auk and Labrador Duck in blissful oblivion.

The last known passenger pigeon was called Martha, after Martha
Washington. She died in Cincinnati Zoo on September 1st, 1914. Her stuffed
Remains were transported to the capital, and there displayed in the Smithsonian.