Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

Species Lost

Research involving scientific collections can help inform studies on local species like the Peregrine Falcon and the Common Yellowthroat and add to current observations. Sometimes, though, scientific collections provide the only means of studying a species. In the 1800s as Chicago grew, Passenger Pigeons migrated across eastern North America in massive flocks. Its population was estimated to be at least three billion - this was the most abundant bird species in North America. Feeding on acorns and beechnuts, they formed enormous flocks consisting of thousands of birds and required vast stretches of habitat to survive. The species suffered from loss of habitat and food resources, but it was human over hunting and perception of this species as an unlimited resource that led to its sharp population decline starting in the 1870s.

Specimens from Illinois are preserved in the Chicago Academy of Sciences' collections, but living members of this species can no longer be observed – Passenger Pigeons went extinct in 1914. Compared with the billions of individual birds that once resided in North America, the 27 bird and egg specimens preserved in the Academy’s collection offers but a glimpse into this species’ existence. 

The year 2014 marked the centennial anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. The Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum helped organize Project Passenger Pigeon to bring wider awareness to the story of the Passenger Pigeon and the impact people have on, as well as our responsibility for, the environment. 

Use the cards at the bottom of each page to explore various parts of the "Documenting Urban Nature" chapter. There will always be a card to take you back to the chapter introduction or you can go back to the Wild in the City overview.

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