A message from Martha –The extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and its relevance today
By Mark Avery published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4729 0625 0
Hardback price £16.99 July 2014
This is a dramatic tale of a bird once seen in its billions in America by people like Wilson, Audubon and King when it was thought to be the commonest bird in the world. It was later reduced to extinction in a few decades! Mark has done a great job on the research of not just the bird but the history of America at this time. The expansion of America by European settlers was the death nail to this species. They were once harvested by Native Americans with the Seneca people believing that the birds were a ‘tribute of food’. The state senate claimed ‘no need for protection’ in 1857 but the bird was gone by 1914 making this 100 years since their extinction hence the book! [An American version by Joel Greenberg also by Bloomsbury comes out later this year.]
I was reading this book about the bird’s biology when I could see out of my window our wood pigeons flocking to feed on bilberry on the opposite side of the valley. Carrying on reading I find that the Passenger Pigeon was also a ‘wood pigeon’ as well. It once fed on blue berries and cranberries along with its main food beech mast, acorns and chestnuts. I followed Mark on his blog when he travelled in 2013 to research this book and this chapter was my favourite even though I felt some maps may have helped to follow the trail. A chapter on the country’s history from 1838 to 1914 was also enjoyable adding the demise of many species in that time especially the locust once found in their trillions!
Some of the locations are a must for future travellers like Dysart Woods with its ancient trees which would have held so many pigeons and the memorial at Wyalusing State Park overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. The rolling stock once taking barrels of pigeons to the big cities from Petoskey may not be on the cards! Chris Packham encourages anyone who cares about the natural world to read the book but Mark would go further and ask any one in farming, industry or politics to read this book and make sure the same mistakes don’t happen again. A great addition to the book case.