The Mystery of the Passenger Pigeon

Hosted by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County Zoo

Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, 7 p.m.

Zoofari Conference Center (just east of Zoo on Bluemound Rd.)

The lecture is free and open to the public.
To register, call (414) 258-5058 or email (include number of people attending).

Prof. Stanley A. Temple
Prof. Stanley A. Temple

More than 150 years ago, American naturalists regularly described the daytime skies suddenly darkening, but not from large storms. The sun was blocked by flocks of millions of passenger pigeons. These birds lived only in the eastern half of North America. They were among the most abundant birds in the world, and their flocks were often miles wide and 300 miles long. "In 1871 the largest nesting colony ever recorded—hundreds of millions of birds—occurred in central Wisconsin," says Stanley A. Temple, the Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You'd think with such massive numbers, passenger pigeons would be abundant today. But these birds are extinct. "The last wild passenger pigeon was shot in 1902," says Temple. "Eventually, only one bird remained. She died at the age of 28 in September 1914." To mark the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon's extinction, Temple, who is also a senior fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, will talk about what we can learn from this tragedy.

The pigeons were killed for food. "Commercial market hunters killed the birds during the nesting season. "When you kill an animal on an industrial scale and prevent them from reproducing, it's a recipe for disaster," says Temple. Today, people are trying to implement sustainable harvesting or hunting practices for other species. Still, wildlife species that have lucrative markets are vulnerable.