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Ridgewood Historical Society :The Passenger Pigeon, Mass slaughter and Extinction

Ridgewood Historical Society ,The Passenger Pigeon, Mass slaughter and Extinction

August 23,2016

the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Ridgewood NJ, While many Americans believe that the bison was the victim of the greatest mass slaughter of an animal in our country, many believe that that distinction belongs to the passenger pigeon

On September 1, 1914, the last known passenger pigeon, a female named Martha (after Martha Washington), died at the Cincinnati Zoo.

While extinct today, in the 1600’s the first settlers in North America stood in awe at the multitudes of these colorful pigeons on their migratory journey from the south to their breeding areas in New England, New York, Ohio and the southern Great Lakes area. As late as the 1800’s reports described flocks a mile wide for four or five hours at a time. A source of cheap food, flocks were so thickly packed that a single shot could bring down thirty or forty birds and many were killed simply by hitting them with pieces of wood as they flew over hilltops.

Live pigeons were bred and used as food and to barter. To transport these birds, farmers would make woven baskets such as the one in the photo. The basket had a narrow design at the top that kept the birds from flying out, and a wide bottom that prevented suffocation.

The pigeon basket in the photo is one of the few still in existence, and was found in Saddle River in 1888. This basket is part of the Ridgewood Historical Society’s “Farm & Home” Exhibit, with Artifacts from the 18th & 19th Centuries

To learn more about what life in Ridgewood was like hundreds of years ago” come to the Schoolhouse Museum and see how farmers, their wives and children lived off the land, cleared forests, harvested food, prepared meals and developed a prosperous economy in 18th and 19th Century Ridgewood.

The Museum is located at 650 E. Glen Ave., Ridgewood, NJ, and visiting hours are Thursdays and Saturdays; 1 to 3 p.m. and Sundays; 2 to 4 p.m. To contact the museum: 201-447 3242 or

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