At fourteen, you liked helping on the farm.

When a strange bird started eating the corn, you brought it down with a single shot. You were proud of that. How could you have known that the blue-grey bird bleeding in your hands was the last wild passenger pigeon?

Your parents remembered how the migrating flocks took days to pass, blackening the skies, drowning out all sound with the thunder of their flight. Such graceful birds; separating round a predator in a whirl of powerful wings, a moving shadow of outstretched talons. Safety in numbers was how they survived, how they had evolved to live.

Man was a different kind of predator; tracking them to their breeding grounds, culling them in tens of thousands, transporting carcasses to towns on the newly-opened railroads.

When their numbers started to drop, conservationists called for limits, but legislators scoffed; who would protect an ant?

Seasons passed. America’s great forests thinned as settlers cleared the land. Flocks weakened and couldn’t re-form. When the conservation legislation was passed in 1897, it was too late.

Estimated at six billion strong, passenger pigeons had been the most common bird in America, possibly on the planet, but under a century later, on 24 March 1900, Press Clay Southworth, you shot the very last one.

 

Passenger Pigeon