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Book Notes: Passenger Pigeon

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From the Birding Community E-bulletin, February 2014:


The story of the extinction of a species that was probably the most populous bird in North American is a story studded with sadness. No one seemed to know or even care that the Passenger Pigeon was doomed until it was too late to do anything about it. Fueled by historic events at the time, a slaughter of epic proportions went virtually unheeded, with triple technological feats of the 19th century - the telegraph, the spread of railroads, and, specifically, the invention of the refrigerated railroad car in the 1870s -accelerating the demise of this species. In four decades (c.1860-1900) the species shrunk from "bewilderingly vast... to virtually gone."


Joel Greenberg chronicles this story in A Feathered River Across the Sky (2014, Bloomsbury), a story that otherwise might simply be depressing without some of the lessons Greenberg cites.


An absence of awareness concerning the species' biology, an ease in harvesting the birds for growing food needs, a rapid advance of technology, and a lag-time between unbridled harvesting and law-enforced wildlife management in America all combined to make the "impossible" happen - the extinction of the species.


Greenberg asks us to reflect on the enormity of the consequences of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon as part of a year-long effort in 2014. His recounting of this cautionary tale occurs during this centenary year, marking the death of "Martha," the last Passenger Pigeon to ever inhabit the earth.


We would be wise to consider the lessons.


In the meantime, you can listen to an interview with Joel Greenberg on the nationally syndicated Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio from last month:


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