Your Views: Let passenger pigeon serve as lesson on species

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Why did passenger pigeons plummet so quickly into extinction, particularly a species hardy enough to amass such a crowd at one egg per annual clutch?

 For three days John James Audubon watched a flock flying overhead and estimated that at times more than 3 million flew by each hour. They were denizens of the once-great deciduous forests of the eastern United States, providing an easily harvested resource for Native Americans and early settlers. To obtain dinner during the nesting season, one needed only to wander into a colony and pluck some of the fat squabs that had fallen or been knocked from the nests. Routinely hunters packed up all they wanted. Then hogs were let loose to feed on the remainder. In-vogue milliners—bird morticians (my words)—cosmetically gave some birds and their parts second lives, merchandising and hatting femmes de hauteur and other ladies who liked such parades.

  As an original part of a small flock to save the species, Martha was hatched in 1885 at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens. No mate could be found for her at the right times, so she died of old age Sept. 1, 1914.

 Consensus of opinion is that passenger pigeons couldn’t survive without nesting in vast colonies. Momentum and exponential forces in extinction are difficult to understand.

  Alfred Einstein pondered impending food shortages. He’s quoted to have said, “If the bee disappeared from the surface of the Earth, man would have only four years to live.”



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