Death Watch

By the summer of 1914, the handwriting was on the cage wall. On August 19, O.S. Biggs visited Martha, the last of the passenger pigeons, at her home in the Cincinnati Zoo:

She [was] dying slowly of old age. Death was but a question of a few days…. She was at that time unable to sit on her perch and was on the bottom of her cage with her wings drooping, and was very weak and feeble.

Biggs, like most of his contemporaries, could still remember the wild bird. The last individual he had seen in Illinois was a female in a walnut grove in August 1896.

I mounted [it] and have [it] in my collection.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that there might, just might, be a connection between that shotgun blast in 1896 and the sad state of the species eighteen years later.

Illinois Natural History Survey