Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Thursday 7 April 2011


Martha Washington, the last passenger pigeon, photographed shortly before her death in 1914, which marked the extinction of what had once been the world's most abundant species of wild bird

When Martha Washington, a small grey dove-like bird, died in a cage at Cincinnati Zoo on 1 September 1914, her passing marked one of the most shameful episodes in the history of humankind – the extinction of the passenger pigeon Ectopistes migratorius, which, incredibly, had been just a century earlier the most abundant species of wild bird in the world, whose vast numbers as witnessed in enormous flocks migrating each year through the North American skies could be counted in the billions, until they were decimated by hunters. This poem, which appears in my poetry book Star Steeds and Other Dreams (CFZ Press, 2009), is a tribute to that lost bird, and a stark reminder of the inconceivable wickedness responsible for its extermination. The final verse’s last word, ‘fly’, deliberately breaks the tradition set throughout the poem of ‘sky’ being the last word in each verse, in order to underline a change of direction in the poem, from realism to mysticism.


Each year, across the New World sky,
Would flocks of birds in millions fly –
Unending flights eclipsing light
While travelling through the sky.

Known as passenger pigeons, they –
The birds that hid the sun’s bright ray
For days and nights while endless flights
Migrated through the sky.

But hunters saw this awesome sight
As food for sport in wild delight,
And shot to kill as ever still
More birds passed through the sky.

Huge raucous clouds of birds in flight,
All unsuspecting of their plight,
Were seen and shot, then left to rot,
As more soared through the sky.

The heavens filled with countless birds,
And through the lands their cries were heard,
As they flew past, upon their last
Migration through the sky.

The pigeons’ flocks were soon reduced
When men with savage guns were loosed –
Who aimed and fired, and ne’er grew tired
Of shooting at the sky.

Dead birds grew greater every day,
But mankind’s greed was swift to pay,
For soon, as feared, they disappeared –
No birds flew through the sky.

Then parties searched for any few
Survivors of those flocks that flew
Across the lands in mighty bands,
A-flying through the sky.

But none did any human find,
The victims of his brutal mind.
Extinct at last – the days were past
When flocks whirred through the sky.

At Cincinnati Zoo one day,
Poor lonely Martha passed away.
The last was dead, her soul was led
Across that boundless sky.

And only then did mankind weep,
A bitter harvest would he reap
For many years, as futile tears
Fell flooding from the sky.

But though their mortal days are done,
The pigeons’ spirits linger on.
For up in Space, beyond man’s face,
On silent wings they fly.


  1. Hi Karl
    You might have heard (Maybe not) that I am one of the few people around that claims to have seen a live pigeon which corresponds to the description of a Passenger pigeon. This would be in Indianapolis, on more than one occasion, once when it was flying overhead and once when it landed not a foot away from my own foot when it landed in a park where some other pigeons were feeding. In both cases the outstanding and arresting feature was that its breast was a bright salmon pink. I do not claim that what I saw was necessarily a survivor of the original great flocks, but possibly a sort of accidental genetic recreation of what a Passenger pigeon once was.

    So I guess you could say where there is DNA there is hope.
    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  2. Hi Dale, I recall a brief mention of it in one of your earlier posts or comments, but it's nice to have it here. Can you remember the date, or at least the year when you saw it? In my Extraordinary Animals Revisited book (2007), I documented some other putative post-1914 sightings of passenger pigeons.

  3. The poor passenger pigeon...whereas the dove is the symbol of peace; is this a sad symbol of Modernity?

    To me, it represents an early epiphany of sorts. As a child of 7/8, I had a colourful book that illustrated the creatures lost to the advances and foolishness of Man. Naturally, the dodo was there, but it was this pigeon that stirred the emotions.

    Quite possibly it was a child's introduction to one of the realities of life. No bad thing, but it was likely a sliver of a shaving from the innocence of childhood. Perhaps it's a maudlin recollection? Once upon a time, a small boy sat in an urban semi and mourned the passing of something that had been extinct for decades.

    If the poet McGonagall had felt the calling of his muse, it may well have begun something like this:

    'Unfortunate bird, oh passenger pigeon,
    We mourn your passing,
    But only a smidgin.'

  4. Sniff.

    It's so tragic. There's not much more to say.

    RIP passenger pigeon. May you fly the skies forever, in memory.