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A Message from Martha: The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and Its Relevance Today (Natural History Narratives) [Kindle Edition]

Mark Avery
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 1st, 2014 marked the centenary of one of the best-documented extinctions in history – the demise of the Passenger Pigeon. From being the commonest bird on the planet 50 years earlier, the species became extinct on that fateful day, with the death in Cincinnati Zoo of Martha – the last of her kind.

This book tells the tale of the Passenger Pigeon, and of Martha, and of author Mark Avery's journey in search of them. It looks at how the species was a cornerstone of the now much-diminished ecology of the eastern United States, and how the species went from a population that numbered in the billions to nil in a terrifyingly brief period of time. It also explores the largely untold story of the ecological annihilation of this part of America in the latter half of the 19th century, a time that saw an unprecedented loss of natural beauty and richness as forests were felled and the prairies were ploughed, with wildlife slaughtered more or less indiscriminately.

Despite the underlying theme of loss, this book is more than another depressing tale of human greed and ecological stupidity. It contains an underlying message – that we need to re-forge our relationship with the natural world on which we depend, and plan a more sustainable future. Otherwise more species will go the way of the Passenger Pigeon. We should listen to the message from Martha.

Product Description


This heart-wrenching saga of extinctions old and new is as much about us as of disappearing doves. --Chris Packham

About the Author

Mark Avery is a scientist by training and a naturalist by inclination, who writes about and comments on environmental issues. Mark worked for the RSPB for 25 years before standing down in April 2011; he was the RSPB's Conservation Director for nearly 13 years. Mark lives in rural Northamptonshire.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 868 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Natural History; 1 edition (17 July 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00L8XV5KM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #244,290 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Mark Avery is a scientist by training and a naturalist by inclination. He worked for the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for 25 years - for the last 12 of those as its Conservation Director. As a senior figure in UK nature conservation Mark played a part in buying land for nature reserves, projects to reintroduce threatened species and campaigning to change government policy on farming, fisheries, forestry and energy production.

Mark's latest book, published by Bloomsbury, is A Message from Martha: the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and its relevance today.

Mark says 'I love the natural world. In my writing I aim to describe its beauty and stand up for it when it is under threat. The world of nature needs all the help it can get'.

Mark writes a daily blog about UK wildlife issues at

Follow Mark on Twitter @markavery

Like Mark's Facebook page

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By David J. Kelly VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Why is the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon a century ago important to us today? I think that is the question that Mark Avery is posing in this book. Most of the species which have become extinct in recent years have been restricted range species, found on islands, or species found more widely but which have small populations. The Passenger Pigeon was a super abundant, widespread continental species which was probably the most numerous bird in the world. So the author's question is one that we need to understand.

The author explores the biology, ecology and social history of the Passenger Pigeon and goes on a road trip through the main part of its historic range. He looks at the small cultural footprint left by this species and its part in American history. He explores the possible reasons that caused it to become vulnerable to extinction, and the shows how the Passenger Pigeon may be the canary in the mine. The impact of our increasing population has affected and will affect so many more species unless we take action now. The last chapter draws parallels with the Passenger Pigeon and the European Turtle Dove where a catastrophic decline seems to have been caused by human "progress".

I enjoyed this book, it taught me a lot I didn't know about the amazing biology and extinction of this unique species. We don't need illustrations, this book is about ideas. The message from Martha, the last of her species, that Mark Avery channels is that we need to change, we are causing extinctions, sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently but it is us. As in his previous book he ends with a call to become politically active for all concerned by the threat to our environment, by being active we can put the environment further up the politicians' agenda.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This is another excellent book from Mark Avery.

It is a compelling account of the demise of a species over a period of a few decades from being the world's most abundant bird to a solitary captive bred individual in Cincinnati Zoo. It explores, in an easy to understand way, the reasons for the massive decline (from billions to zero), includes contemporary accounts of the population, creatively approaches the human social history in the USA during that period and other mentions species that disappeared from north America in the same period.

Most importantly, the book explores what we are doing regarding the real potential of other extinctions, the cost of the loss of biodiversity, our responsibility as a society and as individuals to prevent this. We are on the brink of losing turtle doves from the UK, one hundred years after the loss of the passenger pigeon.

Avery has his normal 'pop' at the NFU, which I may be counter-productive, but also mentions individuals within the farming community that are doing great things for wildlife.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A Message from Martha is a great book, very well written my Mark Avery and should be read by everyone. The loss of the Passenger Pigeon is a lesson for us all!
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5.0 out of 5 stars best Christmas Present 15 Feb. 2015
Mark is passionate about birds and the ecosystems they need to exist. I was therefore bound to rate this read highly and to recommend it to others like me who share this passion and the things that Mark cares about. Our nature is dwindling before our eyes on planet earth and Mark's book is a stark reminder that it doesn't have to be this way. Abundance should not lead to complacence given that science tells us so much more about our destructive actions on our environment that ever before. My best Christmas present although don't tell my wife that! :-)
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