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Gone forever?

Extinct passenger pigeon star of new exhibit

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature


This specimen of a passenger pigeon Ectopistes migratorius is in the Museum’s collections. CMNAV 6462

OTTAWA – 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the disappearance of the passenger pigeon. Inadvertently driven to extinction, the once abundant bird was a tasty and easy target for humans. The ill-fated pigeon is the subject of a new exhibit opening on July 1 at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

“The passenger pigeon is the first of our square metre gallery concepts where we pack a lot of information on a fascinating topic in an efficient, small space,” explains Meg Beckel, President and CEO of the Museum. “Visitors can see actual specimens of this extinct bird from our collections, and ponder the tantalizing question: Should we be bringing species back from the dead?”

Pros and cons of the passenger pigeon’s “de-extinction” are explored in the exhibit. At their peak, they numbered about five billion. A single flock could contain over a billion birds. Hunting and deforestation due to expanding urban and agricultural areas eventually led to their demise. The last confirmed wild sighting of passenger pigeons was in 1902. The last captive passenger pigeon died in 1914.`

Some scientists are exploring the possibility of bringing back the species by extracting DNA from passenger pigeon specimens and completing it with DNA fragments from the closely related Band-tailed pigeon. Visitors to the exhibit will be able to cast their vote for or against de-extinction.

Endangered species are a serious and very present concern for scientists. This new exhibit also explains the current threat to the little brown bat, which could become extinct in North America by 2028 due to a fungal infection called white-nose syndrome.

Along with interesting panel text and photos, the passenger pigeon exhibit contains two mounted male and one female passenger pigeon. An antique Victorian diorama showcases 17 birds. Visitors will also be able to examine passenger pigeon bones and study skins.

The passenger pigeon exhibit is included with Museum admission.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is located at 240 McLeod St, Ottawa. Follow the museum on Twitter, on Instagram (museumofnature), and like the museum on Facebook.

About the Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. The museum provides evidence-based insights, inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature's past, present and future. It achieves this through scientific research, a 10.5 million specimen collection, education programs, signature and travelling exhibitions, and a dynamic web site, nature.ca.

Media contact

Laura Sutin
Media Relations
Canadian Museum of Nature