Possumhaw: The story of Martha

June 2, 2014 11:28:29 AM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


Martha died at the age of 29 after having suffered a stroke. Martha, namesake of Martha Washington, spent most of her life behind bars. Her remains are housed at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. 


"Audubon," the magazine, notes this year is the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon's extinction. "On March 24, 1900, a boy in Pike County, Ohio, shot the last recorded wild passenger pigeon. Fourteen years later, in 1914, the last captive passenger pigeon, Martha, age 29, was found dead in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo." 


In the 1800s passenger pigeons were plentiful. They were the most abundant bird in North America; perhaps the world. It is said when a passenger pigeon migration took place that the sky was darkened and the sound was deafening. For that reason, no one thought such an abundant bird could ever disappear but it did. 


Being a food source was a contributing factor to the passenger pigeon extinction and later the sport of killing birds. "If you are killing the species far faster than they can reproduce, the end is a mathematical certainty," reports Stanley Temple, a professor emeritus of conservation at the University of Wisconsin. 


Not learning from our mistakes dooms us to repeat them. While no one eats blue birds and while it remains a sin to kill a mockingbird, without habitat and food sources we will lose our birds; it's a mathematical certainty. 


The National Audubon Society offers the following suggestions for protecting birds and wildlife: 


In as much as it depends on you reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Go organic. 


Plant native plants that assist our ecosystem. 


Identify the non-native invasive plants and get rid of them. The yellow flowering honeysuckle that abounds in the Prairie is not native but is actually a Japanese import. Encourage coral or trumpet honeysuckle and watch the hummingbirds. 


Hummingbirds can be attracted by mixing one part white sugar and four parts water. Never use food coloring, never buy nectar with food coloring. Clean the feeders weekly. 


Screens, drapes, blinds and decals can protect birds from window collisions. 


My favorite is letting a portion of the yard and fields go natural. It's not only good for the birds but for other creatures, like bunny rabbits. Who said we have to cut our yards perfectly? Isn't it silly to plant and water grass only to cut it, making it unusable to creatures? 


Some birds use the stars to guide them on their migrations. At night turn off the lights or close the blinds, enjoy the dark. Extra lights can disrupt the birds' navigation processes. 


Create water sources. I have four bird baths and have often seen birds splashing like toddlers in a kiddie pool; birds are seen swooping and soaring through the sprinklers. 


Remember Martha and consider giving time and thought to the birds, to wildlife, and thus to all of us.  


For more information on the local Audubon Society contact Dianne Patterson at [email protected] or Margaret Copeland at 662-312-4164.

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.