Once the most common bird in the world, an estimated six billion passenger pigeons roamed eastern North America in enormous flocks that could darken the skies for days at a time. But in the mid-1800s, large-scale commercial hunting all but wiped out the bird in the space of 40 years. The last wild bird was sighted in 1902, and the last captive bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. The extinction spurred the passage of the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and inspired other early conservation efforts.
UMMNH is partnering with Project Passenger Pigeon to commemorate the centenary of the bird’s demise. Last year, the Museum produced a series of nine exhibit panels, entitled A Shadow Over the Earth: The Life and Death of the Passenger Pigeon. Written and designed by Museum Studies intern Kaisa Ryding (Art & Design, ’14), the panels have been made available for free to museums, schools, libraries and other institutions through the passengerpigeon.org website. More than two dozen institutions across the United States and Canada will be using the panels this year. This marks a new effort by the Museum to have its content reach a wider audience. It also represents a new paradigm in the museum field as a whole for sharing content between institutions.
A companion display, The Passenger Pigeon in Michigan uses specimens from the U-M Museum of Zoology to describe the key role our state played in the history of the pigeon, and allow visitors to come face-to-face with the extinct bird. The exhibit was written by Joe Dresch (MSI, LIS, ’10), designed by Juliana Lew (Art & Design, ‘08), and built and installed by UMMNH staff.
A Shadow Over the Earth and The Passenger Pigeon in Michigan are open in the fourth floor temporary exhibits gallery at UMMNH, and run through January 4th, 2015.