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A Bird’s Passing 100 Years Ago Raises Questions Today

Tuesday, September 2, 2014   (0 Comments)
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Did Passenger Pigeon Survival Need Large Communities? 


The passenger pigeon may once have been the world’s most abundant bird, writes John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Orinthology Lab, in the New York Times, and he says the death of the last of the species 100 years ago may represent the largest human-caused extinction in history. Tens of millions of the birds were killed for food, and deforestation depleted their habitat. But mysteries and unlearned lessons remain.


Elizabeth Kolbert, writing in The New Yorker, asks what other factors explain why small flocks that escaped slaughter and changed habitat didn’t survive. Did passenger pigeons need the social stimulation of their large communities to survive? Kolbert quotes Aldo Leopold’s extraordinary tribute to the pigeon, in which he wrote, "For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun….To love what was in a new thing under the sun, unknown to most people and to all pigeons.” Fitzpatrick says birds are a sensitive barometer of the health of the landscape, and that 230 birds are now in danger of extinction. Kolbert write that as we change the planet with unprecedented speed, it’s important to recognize species that seem abundant now may be sensitive to changes we can’t foresee.

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