From Billions to None Update

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David Mrazek
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Chicago, Illinois
United States
2 Team Members

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Thanks to everyone who helped us raise almost $35,000 during Indiegogo Phase 1. We are continuing to raise finishing funds for the film.

Please check for more information!


A Documentary That Has To Be Made

I've always been interested in what North America looked like long ago, and how it has changed. Several years ago I met author and naturalist Joel Greenberg, a guy who is seriously passionate about the natural word. He told me the story of the passenger pigeon; he was writing a book about the bird. For centuries they numbered in the billions, but then they disappeared in a geologic heartbeat. The centennial anniversary of their extinction would be in 2014. I was hooked. I had to make a film about this bird. 

A Seemingly Infinite Population 150 Years Ago 

For centuries, a flock of a billion passenger pigeons flying overhead literally blocked out the sun, sometimes for several days. A frontier farmer could shoot 1000 of these birds before breakfast, and they just kept coming.  In the 1800s most people thought that the bird’s population was virtually infinite. They cut down vast forest areas and ruthlessly hunted the birds for cheap food and sport. What happened to the passenger pigeon? You could say we happened to them.

September 1, 1914—Population Zero

Almost 100 years ago, Martha, the last known passenger pigeon in existence, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. A common, abundant species went from billions that filled the skies-to none-in around 50 years. Martha? She's at the Smithsonian now, along with other extinct species. 


Why Does Martha Matter?

Why should you care that billions of beautiful birds, perhaps the most abundant bird species in the world, disappeared “overnight?”

Because we did it, and we’re doing it again. This isn't just a story about pigeons; it's about our natural world now. 

Seven out of ten biologists surveyed are convinced that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, and this one is being caused by humans. (Biodiversity in the Next Millennium survey, The American Museum of Natural History in conjunction with Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., 1998). Species on land and in the sea are losing out to habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species.   


This Story Doesn't Have To Be Depressing

Fortunately there are success stories. Awareness and concerted effort makes a difference. Remember bison? They almost went the way of the passenger pigeon until people took notice and acted.  The passenger pigeon wasn't so lucky. North America’s Whooping Crane has come back from a low of 21 birds in 1940 to almost 600 in 2011. We'll visit scientists at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, who have been key to bringing back many crane species.  

We will highlight scientists such as Dr. Boris Worm at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, whose research is raising the alarm over the dramatic loss of multiple fish species, including sharks, and Bucknell University’s Dr. DeeAnn Reader, who is racing to save bat species, dying by the millions from a deadly disease.


Let's Change The Story

We don't want you to feel bad about Martha; we want you to feel empowered. We'll follow Joel as he meets motivated conservationists and gets students young and old to connect with what happened to Martha. Let’s think about how we can change the story. We can make a difference regarding things like land use in our neighborhoods and cities. Choose not to eat endangered fish. Recycle. Conserve water. Compost. Preserve open space. It all can make a difference.

De-Extinction.  Say What?

The power of the passenger pigeon story touches people in different ways. A group of scientists and scholars have been moved to launch an effort to bring back the passenger pigeon and other extinct species. It sounds like “Jurassic Park.” If it works, it will take time and a lot of work, and it will be remarkable. But even if the bird is recreated, the immense flocks are gone forever, and the importance of what this bird symbolizes is undiminished. We continue to erase species with ease. For our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, we need to pay attention to how we share the earth.

Why Are We Crowdfunding This Film?

2014 is coming and time is running out! This has been a challenging project to get funded, but we’ve shot a good amount of footage and this film will be finished. It's a labor of love, but now we need a bit more than love to get us where we would like to go.  And that's across the finish line with the best footage and story we can tell. We need enough funding to give us a major boost to accomplish the following: 

  • Key remaining shoots, travel, lodging and crew: Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institution (Martha), Cincinnati Zoo (where Martha died) awesome John Ruthven passenger pigeon mural being painted this summer; International Crane Foundation and Wyalusing State Park, WI; Michigan and Chicago area shoots with Joel. 
  • More CGI (computer generated) and other styles of animation. We've got the cool CGI pigeon model and initial flocking, courtesy of talented animation students at Tribeca/Flashpoint Media Arts Academy-Chicago, and we'd like to flesh out the scene we have, as well as create a few other stylized animated depictions of the passenger pigeon its glory. 
  • Music licensing. We're thrilled to be working with an amazingly talented musician and composer, Garth Stevenson, whose music you hear on the promo trailer. But I need to pay him for his music!
  • Editing, sound design/mixing, and color correction.

 Interviews shot so far:

  • David Blockstein – Senior Scientist, National Council for Science and the Environment
  • Neely Bruce – Professor of Music and American Studies, Wesleyan University
  • Barbara Ceiga – Museum Exhibition Consultant
  • Joel Greenberg  Author, A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction             
  • David Horn – Assoc. Professor of Biology, Millikin University
  • Garrie Landry – Department of Biology, University of Louisiana
  • Todd McGrain – Artist, The Lost Bird Project
  • Curt Meine  Director, The Center for Humans and Nature
  • DeeAnn Reeder – Assoc. Professor of Biology, Bucknell University
  • Jennifer Schmidt  Assoc. Professor of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago
  • Susan Wegner – Assoc. Professor of Art History, Bowdoin College
  • Boris Worm – Professor of Biology, Dalhousie University

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Teachable Moment

2014 provides a compelling and literal “teachable moment” that can connect the passenger pigeon's fate with how we live today. In 2010, Joel helped start Project Passenger Pigeon, a national organization now numbering over 160 institutions, led by The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago. The film will be part of an ambitious campaign that plans to reach schools, universities, museums, nature centers, (with your help-your neighborhood!) and more, across the U.S., Canada and the world. One of our extended trailers is already being used in some classrooms! Help us make a film that can be shown on PBS or cable. I am in the process of contacting PBS stations. 

The Filmmaking Team 

I am an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has directed, written and produced numerous prime-time PBS and cable documentaries, as well as videos for corporate clients and non-profits.  Most recently I was Producer/Co-director of The Principal Story, which aired in 2009 on PBS‘ P.O.V. documentary series.  Our production team includes talented Chicago Directors of Photography Berat O. User and Alejandro Marin, and seasoned Producer Larry Phillippe. Michael Glascott, an accomplished artist and animator, is our Visual Effects Supervisor. Wyatt Mitchell, a recent graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, is our CGI animator. Production services by Rick Smith and Gante Films, Ltd.


For more information about the film and to donate to our Phase Two Fundraising Campaign visit: 

Please contribute if you can. Every little bit really does help! We'd love to get Martha's message out to everyone you know. Whatever you can do, the time is now, and we thank you. Your involvement makes you part of Project Passenger Pigeon. 

Also please check out our Facebook page, "Like" it and share it:


And follow us on Twitter  

Worst Case Scenario

If we don't reach our fundraising goal, whatever we make will be strategically utilized to get the biggest bang for our buck. We will choose our most important shoots and decide what additional animation we can afford. We'll scale back ambitions for sound mixing, color correction etc. for a more D.I.Y. approach. So please give what you can; it will go to good use!



From Billions to None

Project Passenger Pigeon 2014

Martha's story matters. Help tell it to everyone.

If you have any questions about perks or the film project, please email me at:

illustration credit: John James Audubon (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

marine photos in video courtesy of:

Find This Campaign On
raised by 257 people in 1 month
50% funded
No time left
$65,000 USD goal
Flexible Funding This campaign has ended and will receive all funds raised.
Campaign Closed
This campaign ended on June 10, 2013
Select a Perk
  • $10USD
    Our Gratitude

    The birds and trees thank you! Your name on our web site's Wall of Gratitude, plus we'll keep you updated on the progress of the film and Project Passenger Pigeon 2014 outreach activities and how you can get involved. Note by donating you agree that contributions are not tax deductible.

    7 claimed
    Estimated delivery: June 2013
  • $15USD
    A Passenger Pigeon Postcard

    You're flying now! A limited edition postcard of a male passenger pigeon specimen with amazing iridescent purple feathers, from the collection of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. Plus above perk. Note by donating you agree that contributions are not tax deductible.

    14 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
  • $25USD
    Digitally Yours

    You're gaining altitude! The film is yours! A digital download of the film, plus above perks. Note by donating you agree that contributions are not tax deductible.

    81 claimed
    Estimated delivery: June 2014
  • $75USD
    The DVD

    You're joining the flock! A DVD of the finished film, with special extras. Plus all above perks. Note by donating you agree that contributions are not tax deductible.

    32 claimed
    Estimated delivery: June 2014
  • $150USD
    The Epic Book

    You're reaching great heights! A signed copy of Joel Greenberg’s forthcoming book, Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, to be published in 2014 by Bloomsbury USA. The first comprehensive book on the passenger pigeon in 50 years. Plus all above perks. Note by donating you agree that contributions are not tax deductible.

    41 claimed
    Estimated delivery: February 2014
  • $350USD
    A Cool Bird Collage

    You're leading the flock! A giclee print (9 x 6 inches, high resolution, fine art digital print) by renowned MOMA-collected Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick, of a Mamo, an extinct Hawaiian bird. (see artwork at left). Plus all above perks. Note by donating you agree that contributions are not tax deductible.

    9 out of 210 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
  • $600USD
    Whoop It Up

    Private tour of International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, WI, where the Whooping Crane was saved from extinction. Home to 15 crane species. Tour (TBD) led by Stan Temple, Sr. Fellow, Aldo Leopold Fdtn. Also become "adoptive parents" of baby crane raised at ICF. With certificate, picture and crane bio and 1 yr. ICF membership. Also personal birding tour (TBD) with Joel at Illinois prairie. No expenses paid. Plus rewards 1-6. Note by donating you agree that contributions are not tax deductible.

    2 out of 5 claimed
  • $4,000USD
    The Associate Producer

    On screen Associate Producer credit, dinner with the film team and an invitation to the screening premiere in Chicago, IL. Also a personal birding tour and lunch with Joel and David at an Illinois prairie. Dates TBD. (No expenses paid). Plus Rewards 1-6.

    1 claimed
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