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Why Extinction Matters

August 27, 2014
By Susan Kasten

A bird that became extinct in 1914 has worked its way into the hearts and minds of contemporary Beloiters, as well as people across the country who care about the environment.

The passenger pigeon, a once-ubiquitous North American bird, disappeared after it was over hunted and its habitat was destroyed. Now, 100 years after the species vanished, national events will mark its disappearance and examine what can be learned from a species that went from billions to none.

At Beloit, a group of faculty, staff, and students, including Dan Bartlett, Christi Clancy, and Linda Sturtz, began to see how relevant the bird’s story is to our time.

Bartlett, the Logan Museum’s curator of exhibits and education, originally planned a small exhibit to recognize the centennial, then expanded plans in collaboration with colleagues and a summer Sustainability Team to produce a major series of events this fall.

“We wanted to figure out how to make the story new again,” says Bartlett.

Events include the 2014 Richardson Lecture Series, featuring five speakers through September and October, a poster exhibit in the Logan (it includes poems students wrote after spending time with the Logan’s pair of stuffed passenger pigeons), and a late September “flyover” featuring computer-generated film of a flock, projected onto the Fat Wallet building downtown in the midst of performances.

The Logan’s exhibit, A Shadow Over the Earth: The Life and Death of the Passenger Pigeon, in the Shaw Gallery, second floor, anchors the series. It includes posters from Project Passenger Pigeon, a national effort, with additional panels created by one of Beloit’s summer Sustainability Teams, which localize the exhibit and expand it to include contemporary species imperiled by human activities. The Logan’s pair of stuffed passenger pigeons, donated to Beloit’s collection in the late 19th century, is also featured.

Events begin Monday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. in room 150, Center for the Sciences, when the first visiting speaker Steven Kuehn from the University of Illinois talks about passenger pigeons in the archaeological record. A complete rundown of events can be found at (click on “events”) or on Twitter and Instagram #GhostFlock. Events are also listed on the college’s Master Calendar.

Many local organizations are collaborating with Beloit on the series, with major funding coming from the Richardson Lecture Fund, the Mellon Foundation Labs Across the Curriculum grant, and the Beloit College Pathways to Sustainability Leadership Program.