There are a number of ways a bird goes from being an anonymous fowl to a specimen celebrated for the ages. Unfortunately for the birds, it generally involves them dying first.
Martha the last passenger pigeon became famous for a particularly sad reason. Once billions of passenger pigeons flew in giant flocks that darkened the sky over vast swathes of the U.S. But they were so easy to shoot down that by the turn of the century their numbers had declined precipitously. Martha died in captivity in 1914, as the last of her species. Martha’s preserved remains, held at D.C.’s Museum of Natural History, now help educate the public about the nature of extinction.
G.I. Joe is one of a number of decorated war pigeons. Part of a unit called the Signal Pigeon Corps, Joe was a communication and reconnaissance pigeon, one of 54,000 war pigeons used in World War II. Joe managed to save the lives of thousands of troops by delivering a last-minute message to call off a bombing on a town the troops had just occupied. His taxidermied body is on display, standing at attention, in the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Museum.
Grip the Raven is perhaps the only bird famous for inspiring great poetry and even appearing in the works of two literary greats. Grip the Clever, Grip the Wicked, Grip the Knowing—these were some of the names that Dickens gave to his pet Raven. After making an appearance in the Dickens story “Barnaby Rudge,” reviewed by a young critic by the name of Edgar Allan Poe, that critic became focused on the idea of a talking raven as a character. Poe’s breakout poem, “The Raven,” was written shortly thereafter. Grip was taxidermied after his death by Dickens and now resides in the Rare Book Collection of the Philadelphia public library.
But none of the above birds, despite their great contributions, have made the kind of contribution or sacrifice that the Arrow Stork of Rostock made to natural history.