The Last Heath Hen

This is a true story.  A story I wanted to share with you in my own words.

Heath is an Old World term for an extended, uncultivated open space covered with herbage and low bushes. The colonial landscape of the early 18th century from Massachusetts to the Carolinas  had heaths large enough to provide homes for  heath hens. This bird was so plentiful that it was a staple food for indentured laborers in coastal New England.

Example of a heath

exampl of a heath

There were a few reasons why the population of heath hens started to decline.  I won’t go into that here.  By the 1870’s the only heath hens left were on Martha’s Vineyard.


By 1927 there were only a dozen or so heath hens left.  After December 28th, 1928 there was only one heath hen, a male.  The islanders had named him “Booming Ben”.    For the next three years Ben showed up every spring to call out to any female hen that would listen.    He would eat corn in Farmer Green’s  field hoping to find a mate.  He waited and waited to no avail.  On March 11, 1932, Farmer Green saw Ben scurrying under a bush.  That was the last time anyone  ever saw Ben again.   He had lived a lonely solitary life booming his soothing call across the fields waiting for his true love to answer.  He died that year, alone,  the last heath hen.


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Donald Mills
    May 30, 2009 @ 18:43:01

    Thanks Joan. An interesting read to be sure. I feel a slight kinship to old “booming ben.”

    Hope you’re well.



  2. Joy
    May 30, 2009 @ 19:07:17

    That was very interesting. I agree with Donald. It’s also very sad. At least he never gave up looking for love. Well, either love or a good lay!


  3. Anja
    May 30, 2009 @ 23:08:40

    Poor old Ben.


  4. Just a Mom
    May 31, 2009 @ 08:57:12

    I love “small town” stories like these!


  5. starlaschat
    May 31, 2009 @ 12:15:20

    Aww that is the saddest story. Booming Ben looking for love, nicely written, nice pictures too. I was hoping for a happier ending. Poor Ben.


  6. Doraz
    May 31, 2009 @ 13:14:02

    Booming Ben never gave up. It is sad that there are no more like him around! I am sure he is thankful you did not forget, and you wrote him this great story. 🙂


  7. mageb123
    May 31, 2009 @ 13:22:34

    If you want to see what a heath hen looked like, go to the Tisbury School.There are a couple of hens that had been stuffed and put on display in a glass case.


  8. EV
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 21:34:06

    The Heath Hen’s story is very sad! There is another bird who is facing almost the exact same peril right now! Check out the Kakapo Recovery Program so that we can make Ben proud!


  9. Trackback: Unhappy endlings: What tales of the last days of extinct and dying species can bring to our own story | Under The Banyan
  10. Carlos
    Sep 22, 2013 @ 11:58:26

    Poor Booming Ben!!

    Maybe he will return.



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