In the Wake of Martha’s Passing - by Lupa Greenwolf
One hundred years ago today [Sept. 1], a small, lonesome little bird passed away at the Cincinnati Zoo. A few decades before this would have been a death of no note; there had been millions of her sort darkening the skies in impossibly large flocks. But on September 1, 1914, Martha, the very last passenger pigeon, died quietly in her cage.
How did a species that was so numerous less than fifty years before just disappear from the face of the planet? Two factors seem to have been the culprits: habitat loss from human expansion, and overhunting for passenger pigeon meat sold commercially. Indeed, these malignant twin forces have caused the endangerment and extinction of countless species over the centuries as human population has exploded, and the demand for land and other resources has grown accordingly.
Birds in the Victorian era faced an additional threat: demand for their feathers. Feathered hats had become exceedingly popular; individual plumes, whole wings, and even entire bird skins were slapped onto millinery confections and sold at a profit. The plume trade became a goldmine, and a feather hunter could retire on the skins of a few particular species. Some species suffered more than others; the great egret almost went extinct because they only grew their magnificent (and much-desired) plumage during the breeding season. Killing an egret almost certainly meant the death of its young, since both parents were needed to incubate the eggs and care for the young once hatched, and this had a predictably detrimental effect on their ability to recover from the impact of rigorous hunting.
Yet we still have egrets today; populations have rebounded, and they’re listed as of “least concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Why?
Read the rest here at Paths Through the Forests.