Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Last Passenger Peep

This year the Ohio Historical Society is holding an Ohio history themed Peeps diorama contest, Ohio: A History of a Peeple. Participants have been invited to create a diorama based on famous scenes from Ohio's past. While I don't expect this is exactly famous, I do know that the last captive passenger pigeon, "Martha," died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

So, to commemorate Martha, and to acknowledge (in some small way) the passenger pigeon's place in Ohio's history, I present Martha, the last passenger peep:

The passenger peep, Ectopistes marshmellosous, was once the most common bird in the United States, numbering in the billions. Passenger peeps lived in enormous colonies, with sometimes up to 100 nests in a single tree. Migrating flocks stretched a mile wide, turning the skies sticky and yellow.

Bird painter John James Audubon, who watched them pass on his way to Louisville in 1813, described “the muffled tones of their gelatinous wings,” and said “the air was literally filled with peeps; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse…” When he reached his destination, 55 miles away, the peeps were still passing overhead, and “continued to do so for three days in succession.” The passenger peep, a wild bird, is not to be confused with the carrier peep, a domesticated bird trained to carry messages.

The last known individual of the passenger peep species was "Martha" (named after Martha Washington). She died at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden, and was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, where her body was once mounted in a display case with this notation:

Last of her species, died at 1 p.m., 1 September 1914, age 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden.

These photographs show "Martha" at rest outside the one of the Cincinnati Zoological Garden's Aviarys shortly before her death. This pagoda style hut still stands on the Cincinnati Zoo's grounds and now serves as the Passenger Peep Memorial.

Author's Note: While the passenger peep is a fiction, the passenger pigeon was not. For more information on the demise of the passenger pigeon and it's connection to Ohio, check out these informative sites:

Martha: The Last Passenger Pigeon

No One Believes the Passenger Pigeon will go Extinct...Until it Does.

Roadside America: Passenger Pigeon Memorial Hut

Revisiting the Cincinnati Zoo: Passenger Pigeon Memorial

If I were the preachy type I'd suggest there might be a lesson in all this; maybe something about learning from the past and the fragile nature of our ecosystem; or maybe about how exponential change has a way of sneaking up on us and how quickly the unimaginable can become reality.

I'm not the preachy type though, so I'll leave you to figure it out.


  1. it seems the peeps contests abound...

  2. Those are pretty fantastic! I'm sort of embarrassed by mine now.