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Passenger Pigeons Remembered

The OOS and Cincinnati Zoo Passenger Pigeon Symposium provided birders from as far away as Toronto and Louisiana with a value-packed itinerary for Labor Day weekend.  On Friday night’s “Martinis with Martha”, funds were raised for the Zoo’s Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) program while everyone enjoyed the combined musical styling’s of Bill Thompson, of The Rain Crows and John Kogge, of the Lonesome Strangers from Oxford, Ohio.  Chris McCullough gave origami lessons and was assisted by a local Girl Scout Marci, as we folded our own passenger pigeon flock. Cincinnati’s Masterworks of Nature displayed beautiful bird themed works of art.  Most exciting was an extensive opportunity to visit with most of our guest speakers over informal drinks and semi-formal finger foods!

 Saturday morning author Joel Greenburg (A Feathered River Across the Sky) led our line-up of speakers that included Jim McCormac, John Ruthven, and Brian Jorg.  Attendees had options in the afternoon that included full zoo access, an advance look at the newly refurbished 1914 aviary, or a behind the scenes tour of the Geiger Museum featuring their collection of extinct bird specimens.  After dinner several attendees went birding with special access to Fernald Nature Preserve, where the water levels had been managed especially to provide shorebird habitat for our visit.  Many also visited the 3-story tall Ruthven’s mural downtown.  On Sunday, we were invited by Oxbow Inc. to bird their properties, with the group led by several of our speakers.

As OOS board member Randy Rogers noted in his opening remarks, “I believe that future historians will look at the human destruction of the Passenger pigeon as not just an event significant to the history of a particular culture or region, but an event that ranks with a relative few events…as significant in the history of humanity.”  Commemorating the extinction anniversary was an important for OOS and the zoo, and our event successfully reflected on our loss while generating a positive energy going forward in our appreciation of birds and protecting species for the future. 

Photo of Joel Greenberg viewing the Zoo's Passenger Pigeon exhibit, courtesy Randy Rogers

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The Passenger Pigeon in Ohio

Passenger Pigeons in Ohio

Historian Caleb Atwater observed in 1838 that passenger pigeons still passed through Ohio in huge numbers in the spring and fall, adding that "[f]ormerly the pigeons tarried here all summer, building their nests, and rearing their young, but the country is too well settled for them now; and so, like the trapper for beaver, and the hunter, they are off into the distant forests, where their food is abundant, and where there is none to disturb them in their lawful pursuits." Actually, large nesting colonies survived in a few spots in the state after the middle of the century, even though there were growing numbers of humans who continued to persecute them. 

By 1882, Wheaton, born in 1840 and author of Report on the Birds of Ohio, observed it had become "much less abundant and irregular." Less than twenty years later its extinction in the wild was complete. Lawrence Hicks in 1935 summed up its former abundance in “immense numbers in every section of the state and presumably breeding generally, though usually locally and in very large colonies,” citing confirmed large nestings historically in rural Licking, Pickaway, Morrow, Huron, Wayne, Medina, Columbiana, Portage, Trumbull, Ashtabula, and Geauga counties. 

Last Records of the Passenger Pigeon:
Still extant is a mounted specimen, now at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, collected in the state in 1900, thought for many years to have been the last pigeon verified in the wild.  Martha, a pigeon kept at the Cincinnati Zoo until her death in 1914, is considered to have been the last of all her kind.

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Champions in Conservation: The Wilds in Rural Ohio, by Kyle Carlson

Nestled in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, approximately 75 miles east of Columbus, are nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed surface mine habitat unlike any other area in the state. One of the world’s largest conservation centers has been located here since 1984.

Birders know The Wilds as a phenomenal area to watch birds, especially in winter, when dozens of Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and Short-eared Owls cruise over the grasslands, hunting for meadow voles. Regular occurrences of Golden Eagle and Northern Shrike add to the allure of winter birding at The Wilds. The summer months bring an array of grassland songbirds to the mix: Grasshopper, Vesper, and Henslow’s Sparrows; Prairie Warbler; Bobolink; and the occasional Blue Grosbeak. The Wilds is truly a year-round birder’s paradise. The National Audubon Society made it official by designating The Wilds as an Important Bird Area.

But did you know that The Wilds is more than just a great place to watch native birds? The nonprofit organization’s mission is “to advance conservation through science, education, and personal experience.” They accomplish this through innovative research, numerous outreach programs, and unique safari tour experiences.

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Grassland Birds in Decline

First Bees, Now Birds
From Pesticide Action Network North America

Prairie bird populations are falling in many Midwestern states, from ring-necked pheasants to horned larks to sparrows. Scientists now say insecticides are a primary culprit.

Minnesota birds are hardest hit with 12 species in decline, followed by Wisconsin with 11, and Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska and New York with nine affected species each.

The recent study looked at a range of possible causes of the population declines, including habitat loss which has long been considered a key driver of the problem.

Bird conservationists are “still concerned” about range management, urban development and loss of habitat, but are now focusing additional attention on the harmful impacts of pesticides. According to Cynthia Palmer, Manager of the Pesticides Program at American Bird Conservancy:

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Birding Festivals

Looking for a birding festival this summer? Visit the Bird Watcher's Digest  "Festival Finder" page to have look for festivals around the country. This is a great way to get to find birds with local guides and field trips to hotspots in the area, and a fun way to get to know other birders too!


We have an exciting line-up of field trips, speakers, conferences, and other state-wide birding and educational events scheduled in 2014. Some of these are still in the planning stages, so be sure to check back often for updates. Please check our calendar page for upcoming events. We hope to see you there!

Reporting a Rare Bird Sighting

Part of the excitement of birding comes when we find something unusual, something rare or unexpected that we can relish and share with others. But telling others about your finding, in person or on the internet, is fleeting. Even more important, for the ornithological record, is documenting your record in a permanent way. Reports of rarities, when they can be authenticated and published, help to fill out the total picture of our local avifauna. As records, they can help us all to recognize habitats, regions, or seasons in which scarce species are most likely to be found.

Why Submit Documentation?

Any scientific report of an unusual phenomenon must be supported by documentation: that is, verifiable evidence reported and vouched for by a first-hand observer, submitted for peer review before acceptance and publication. In general, the rarer and more interesting the occurrence, the more important it is to document and verify it for the record.