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Earth Science

Humans Not Solely To Blame For Passenger Pigeon Extinction 53

Posted by samzenpus
from the who's-to-blame dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes When the last passenger pigeon died at a zoo in 1914, the species became a cautionary tale of the dramatic impact humans can have on the world. But a new study finds that the bird experienced multiple population booms and crashes over the million years before its final demise. The sensitivity of the population to natural fluctuations, the authors argue, could have been what made it so vulnerable to extinction.
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Humans Not Solely To Blame For Passenger Pigeon Extinction

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  • ...we humans still hunted the crap out of it with absolutely no regard to the future of the species. I'd still say it was our fault.
    • by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday June 16, 2014 @04:32PM (#47249287) Journal
      Yep, they survived multiple population crashes for a million years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wirefarm (18470)

      Apparently they were fairly awful creatures—flocks of a few million birds blackening the skies, decimating crops and crapping on everything.
      Couldn't we direct our sympathies to a more like-able creature? Wooly mammoths or great awks, perhaps?

      Maybe we eradicated them and it's actually a *good* thing. It's not quite the same as how we (as a species) are still hunting the poor ortolan

      Call me insensitive, but I really hate pigeons.

    • by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Monday June 16, 2014 @04:47PM (#47249393) Journal

      No.

      Humans poisoned the crap out of it with absolutely complete regard for the future of the species. Passenger Pigeons were regarded as a menace by early settlers, like locust. And like locust, they were eliminated. Yes, Passenger Pigeons were hunted, and yes, the last few thousand were likely killed by hunters. But the first 100,000,000 million were poisoned or had their trees cut down.

      • by radtea (464814)

        Passenger Pigeons were regarded as a menace by early settlers, like locust. And like locust, they were eliminated.

        To go from 136 million in 1871 to zero in 1900 (the year the last passenger pigeon was shot in the wild) would have taken a phenomenal killing effort. At that size of population the reproduction rate must have been getting on for 100 million new birds a year, and every bird killed must simply created a better chance that next year's young would survive, because they would be competing for food with a smaller flock.

        Granted, the nesting areas were relatively small and therefore subject to easy destruction, bu

        • by Anonymous Coward

          To go from 136 million in 1871 to zero in 1900

          And from 5 billion 200 years earlier. What's your point?

          The oceans contains millions of whales too. Now morons come up with half-hearted excuses list "too many whales in sea causes fish stock depletion" for the commercial "hunts".

          http://www.whaling.jp/english/... [whaling.jp]

          So yes, pigeons would have survived if people didn't kill them and destroy their habitat. Remember that favourite hunting area for them were the *nesting sites* being hit over and over again until everything was either too old to reproduce or there

        • by tomhath (637240) on Monday June 16, 2014 @06:32PM (#47250223)
          Passenger pigeons had a unique roosting and nesting technique. They formed huge flocks in trees near a food source and stayed there while raising their young. When market hunters found a roost they would wait until night when the tree was full of birds and blast away with shotguns, killing thousands and destroying the nests. As the population declined there were fewer and fewer of those mass nesting sites, but when one was found it was eliminated. Eventually there weren't enough birds to form a proper colony and they couldn't nest anymore.
          • by dgatwood (11270)

            Too bad folks haven't done the whole mass shotgun extinction trick with the European starlings. You've never seen such a mess as when a flock of those things descends on your yard. There's something inherently wrong about looking out at your yard and seeing nothing but black where the grass should be, because they've completely blotted out the ground. And the next morning, your sidewalk is practically solid white with bird crap. Just disgusting. I don't think "invasive species" quite covers it. :-)

            • Well, if someone does the "shotgun trick" with the starling, maybe in 30 years someone will be waxing poetically about the starling and how it used to cover the skies and the peculiar sound it made.

              Live flocks of birds make noise and shit. Dead flocks of birds make ornithologists nostalgic.

              • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

                Well, if someone does the "shotgun trick" with the starling, maybe in 30 years someone will be waxing poetically about the starling and how it used to cover the skies and the peculiar sound it made.

                Kinda like how you remember the days when kids didn't walk on your lawn.

                Damn birds get on that lawn too.

        • A protected nature reserve is protected from whom or what? From nature? From predators? No, it's protected from people. So high diversity in a nature reserve means high diversity in a zone protected from people. Same dam thing.
      • by guises (2423402)
        The rocky mountain locust wasn't eliminated intentionally, that was just habitat destruction - they needed the great plains for breeding and the farmers took care of that. The passenger pigeon was hunted the same way we hunt fish now: with nets and with little regard for conservation. They were seen as a cheap source of protein, to be fed to pigs and slaves.

        I wouldn't be surprised if there was some poisoning, but that wasn't a concerted effort. Congress did made a half-assed attempt to prevent their extin
    • by tlambert (566799)

      ...we humans still hunted the crap out of it with absolutely no regard to the future of the species. I'd still say it was our fault.

      Well, we certainly brought over the European pigeon variants of domestic, feral, ringneck, and rock dove, so it's certainly our fault for displacing them from their ecological niche with a more resilient invasive species. Somewhat the same as the English introducing Rabbits to Australia.

      Funny how we don't seem to care enough about these particular invasive species to wipe them out from areas which are not their natural habitat, but we get our panties all in a bunch over other invasive species.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How DARE someone say humans aren't to blame!

  • by Ken_g6 (775014) on Monday June 16, 2014 @04:36PM (#47249305) Homepage

    In discussion about potentially cloning passenger pigeons, there were concerns that the species needed huge flocks. As a result, there were concerns that cloning just a few wouldn't be enough to bring back the species.

    Since this study showed that passenger pigeons had population crashes before and came back, this should alleviate the flock size concerns.

    • Yes, but there's still one problem: if you bring back the passenger pigeon in some sort of wildlife preserve and they outgrow their food supply, how are you going to get the flock out of there?
      • if you bring back the passenger pigeon in some sort of wildlife preserve and they outgrow their food supply, how are you going to get the flock out of there?

        You DO know that they fly, don't you?

        Like in flocks of millions over continental distances?

  • Much in the same way that Slashdot isn't entirely responsible for the "503, Service Unavailable" message I got when trying to follow the link.

  • Nothing beats squab and rice
  • But.

    An edible bird that was in direct competition with humans for nuts, berries, and cultivated grain happened to go extinct as these selfsame bipeds were settling a continent where the pigeons had previously flourished.

    The causation is strong with this one.

  • If the damn things hadn't been so delicious, they'd still be around!
    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      If the damn things hadn't been so delicious, they'd still be around!

      If humans hadn't been so damn stupid about it, we'd be eating them for dinner tonight.

  • Passenger pigeons must have been so delicious. Think about it.

  • This sensationalist crap is just an excuse to get some publicity. Climate change had nothing to do with the pigeon's demise. It operates too slowly and migratory birds are not that sensitive because they can move around to find food sources. It was hunting, greed, and avarice. Nothing more.

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