Friday, February 21, 2014

The Passenger Pigeon’s Extinction

2014 marks the 100 year anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The passenger pigeon's story is unlike any other bird we know of today.  They once ranged far and wide over the deciduous forests of Eastern North America and had a population that was likely to have been as large at 3 to 5 billion.  This would have made it the most abundant bird in North America if not the world.  Exploitation by man was able to drive this species to extinction in just a few decades.

This bird likely had a great influence on our hardwood forests as its diet is described as composed mainly of beechnuts, acorns, and chestnuts in the fall and berries and softer fruits during the summer.  Their large flocks numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands would overturn leaves, dirt, and snow in their search for nuts.  A foraging flock was capable of devouring nearly all the fruits and nuts they could find.  Their foraging activity ranged from 60 to 100 miles from their roost daily.  They ate quickly, as competition for food was fierce, storing food in their crop which was capable of expanding to the size of an orange.  Their crops were described as, "being capable of holding at least 17 acorns or 28 beechnuts, 11 grains of corn, 100 maple seeds, plus other material."

In recognition of the loss of this amazing bird and increase awareness of species exploitation the Arboretum at Penn State and the Penn State Department of Ecosystem Science and Management are providing a special presentation entitled The Passenger Pigeon's Extinction: Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future.  The presentation will take place on Thursday, April 3 at 4:00 PM in the Forest Resources Building, Room 112 on the Penn State University Park campus. 

The presentation will be provided by Stanley Temple, Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Senior Fellow Aldo Leopold Foundation.  There will also be a tour of the Arboretum Children’s Garden immediately following the presentation.  If you are interested in attending please email Nancy Stoner at:

A web site has also been created entitled Project Passenger Pigeon.  The goals of the Project include, marking the anniversary, promoting the conservation of species and habitat, strengthening the relationship between people and nature, and fostering the sustainable use of natural resources.  The project aims to engage a broad audience through a documentary film, a new book on passenger pigeons, this website, social media, curricula, and a wide range of exhibits and programming for people of all ages.

The documentary film being produced is entitled "From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction." To learn more about this film click here.  There is also a short 4 minute promo trailer narrated by author Joel Greenberg.  The film attempts to reveal the story of how the passenger pigeon disappeared and why, 100 years later, it is important to remember this historic event.

For more on the Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania click here.

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