In the last years of her life, Martha began to lose her feathers. Sol Stephan, General Manager of the Cincinnati Zoo, where Martha spent most of her years, began collecting the feathers in a cigar box without much idea of what he would do with them. Martha lived a sedentary life at the zoo. Her cage was 18 feet by 20 feet — she had never known what it was to fly free. When Martha’s last friend George (who was also named for a Washington) died in 1910, Martha became a celebrity. She watched the people passing by, alone in her enclosure, and they watched her. Martha ate her cooked liver and eggs, and her cracked corn, and sat. On the outside of her cage, Stephan placed a sign announcing Martha as the Last of the Passenger Pigeons. Visitors couldn’t believe that Martha really was the last. They would throw… More…

The pigeons scuttle into a corner when Conrad Mullins enters his backyard loft. He lunges for a bird and they fling themselves up, battering around. His arm snaps out and he grabs one right out of the air. He quickly secures its feet between his fingers and cups its tail with his palm, and then presses it against his stomach to prevent it from flailing and hurting itself. He turns it over in his hands. “Beautiful, beautiful,” he murmurs. “I’ve got a good feeling about this guy.”

 

Two days from now, nearly 500 pigeons like this will race across the Nevada desert, back to the lofts like this, to which they have been trained to home.

The bird in Conrad’s hand seems resigned if not calm. “Here, hold it,” Conrad says. I take the bird’s feet, then its… More…

 

I’ve always been suspicious of the birds. Maybe it’s because they are always spying on us from above. The ancients understood that the birds were in cahoots with powerful forces. They poked about in bird entrails trying to find messages from the heavens, omens from hell. They wondered whom the birds were working for. Poor Prometheus was punished for the simple and humane act of giving fire to mankind. It is no accident that he was punished with the torture of an eagle eternally feasting on his liver. The birds will always sell us out for a pittance.

Our latest humiliation at the hands of our feathery friends comes in the unexpected realm of art criticism. The birds, it seems, enter any arena if there is the chance of making us look like fools.

Here’s what happened. Shigeru… More…