Sunday, October 10, 2010
Status: Extinct in the Wild
Passenger pigeons once flocked across the North American continent in the millions. An estimated two billion were living in the year 1800. One hundred years later, only a handful of these birds remained in the wild. There are two primary reasons for their decline; 1) commercial hunter; 2) habitat destruction. In the eastern United States (and Confederate States at the time), much of the former unbroken forest had been stripped from the landscape and replaced by farmland. Remaining habitats and sanctuaries in Tennessee and Kentucky were torn to pieces by the Great War, and soldiers from both sides poached the birds to augment their poor quality rations. By 1920, there were none left in the wild. The survival of the species ironically depended on the wide-scale commercial hunting operations of the 19th Century. At one point, entire freight cars full of the birds were delivered to market in New Amsterdam, Philadelphia and Boston. The decline in numbers caused some hunter to begin rounding up live pigeons to breed and attempt to domesticate. Domestication has been a mixed success, with almost all of the several million surviving passage pigeons being bred on commercial aviaries for eventual slaughter. A smaller pet market has arisen since the 1950s to offer the captive animals a more comfortable living. It is believed that some birds have escaped from captivity over the years, but no confirmed sightings have been recorded.