The Lost Bird Project
March 29-September 13, 2020
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The Lost Bird Project is a series of large bronze sculptures of North American birds driven to extinction in modern times. Permanent statues of the Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, Carolina Parakeet, Great Auk and Labrador Duck have been placed near the location of their last sightings. Second castings of these sculptures form the exhibit on the Museum grounds. The Project’s sixth sculpture is the new Eskimo Curlew Memorial. As a chronicle of humankind’s impact on our changing world and a moving record of dwindling biodiversity, The Lost Bird Project is an ode to vanished times and vanished species.
THE ESKIMO CURLEW MEMORIAL SCULPTURE
A six-foot permanent Eskimo Curlew Memorial Sculpture, commissioned by the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, was unveiled in March in Galveston Island State Park. The last North American sighting of this elegant shorebird occurred on west Galveston in 1962, per the Texas Bird Records Committee. This bronze tribute, the sixth sculpture of The Lost Bird Project, is located on the park’s Clapper Rail Trail.
SCULPTURES AT THE BRYAN MUSEUM
THE PASSENGER PIGEON
Passenger Pigeons once numbered in the billions and made up 25 percent of the total U.S. bird population. It was easily the most abundant bird in North America and possibly the world. The bird was hunted into extinction, victimized by the belief that no creature of such abundance could ever be endangered. The last Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.
THE HEATH HEN
Heath Hens were common in their coastal range between Virginia and New Hampshire. They had the reputation as “poor man’s food,” because they were inexpensive and plentiful, and there are theories that suggest the first Thanksgiving featured Heath Hens and not Wild Turkey. Hunting reduced its numbers so severely that by 1870, none remained on the mainland leaving only a small population on Martha’s Vineyard. By 1929, only one Heath Hen remained, which the locals named Booming Ben. Ben was observed on his traditional mating grounds until March 11, 1932. After that date, he was never seen again.
THE GREAT AUK
Great Auks, looking something like penguins and standing 3 feet high with hooked beaks almost as large as their heads, were flightless birds who mated for life. Once widely distributed across the North Atlantic, Great Auks roosted at sea and came ashore only during breeding season where they could be found on a few islands from Newfoundland to Norway. The Great Auk was prized for its feathers, oil, fat, and eggs, and over-harvesting the birds for market led to its demise. Agile in the water, these birds were slow and awkward on land, making them easy prey. The last two Great Auks, a mated pair, were clubbed to death on an island off Iceland in 1844.
THE LABRADOR DUCK
The Labrador Duck was the first species among endemic North American birds to go extinct. Boldly displaying its striking black and white plumage, this bird was a sea duck that feasted in shallow water on shellfish and mollusks along the American coast of the North Atlantic. The Labrador Duck is considered the most enigmatic of all North American birds. The last individual of this species was seen in 1878, before ornithologists had much opportunity to study it.
THE CAROLINA PARAKEET
Carolina Parakeets were green parrots with bright yellow heads, red faces, and pale beaks who travelled noisily in flocks of 200-300. Once locally abundant, it was the only native North American parrot north of Mexico until destruction of their forested habitat reduced the population. In addition, they were killed by farmers who considered them pests, and hunted for their feathers for use in making ladies’ hats. Another factor contributing to their decline was their tendency to return to, and flock around, their dead and dying, enabling greater slaughter. The last known wild specimen was killed in Okeechobee County, Florida, in 1904. The last 2 captive birds were a mated pair, named Incas and Lady Jane. Incas outlasted his mate by about one year, dying at the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918.