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Author Explains The Demise Of The Passenger Pigeon


It's hard to believe that in the early 1800's, roughly 40 percent of the birds in North America were passenger pigeons.  Yet, a century later, the species was hunted to extinction.  The last one died in captivity in 1914.

Naturalist Joel Greenberg has written about this cautionary tale.  He will give the Illinois State Museum's Science Series lecture Wednesday in Springfield. His book is titled "A Feathered River Across The Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight To Extinction."

"The passenger pigeon looms as this incredible story. This incredible phenomenon that highlights how abundant in life this region and continent were," he said.   "The speed with which human beings depleted this resource really grabbed me as well and presents messages that are relevant for today."

The birds were hunted heavily and their habitat was destroyed as people expanded across the U.S.  They were unable to reproduce fast enough to replace those being taken.  Greenberg says there were individuals who called for conservation, but no coordinated effort.

"Only one state ever banned the killing of passenger pigeons.  That was Michigan in 1897, at a time when the birds were already gone," he said.

"The Endangered Species Act was a commitment by this country that we're not going to let species become extinct, at least not without trying," Greenberg added.  But with that law under attack, Greenberg points to the passenger pigeon and its story.  

"One message would be to let your lawmakers know you think conservation laws like the Endangered Species Act need to be kept strong,"   he said.

Wednesday's Paul Mickey Science Series lecture will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the State Museum's Research and Collections Center at 1011 E. Ash St.   It's free to attend. 

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