Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Passenger Pigeons and the Destructive Power of Humans

Energy
Passenger Pigeons and the Destructive Power of Humans

Passenger pigeons were once a remarkable story of nature’s abundance. Despite producing only one chick a year, they were the most numerous bird on Earth, sometimes darkening the sky for hours or even days when they flew overhead. But then they told another tale—about the destructive power of humans. We killed them all. The last wild bird was believed to have been shot in Laurel, Indiana, in 1902. The lone captive survivor was named Martha; she died at the Cincinnati Zoo 100 years ago, on September 1, 1914.

Passenger Pigeon or Wild Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), vintage engraved illustration. Passenger pigeon perched on tree branch. Trousset encyclopedia (1886 - 1891).

In some ways, the passenger pigeons’ success led to their demise. According to an article onYale Environment 360, their abundance made them “the least expensive terrestrial protein available.” Although habitat loss from expanding logging and agriculture played a role, hunting ultimately wiped them out.

Birds have long been the “canaries in the coal mine” for our destructive ways. Extinction of the passenger pigeon sparked the first large environmental movement in the U.S., and led to restrictions on hunting, as well as federal and international regulations to protect migratory birds.

The next great environmental movement was also ignited out of concern for birds. For 20 years after Swiss chemist Paul Müller discovered DDT was extremely effective at killing insects, it was the most widely used insecticide worldwide. But in her 1962 book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson explained how the chemical was also killing birds, and accumulating in the environment and up the food chain, to humans.

Carson’s book inspired me and many others to heed the environmental consequences of our actions, and eventually led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Now, birds face a range of new problems, most caused by humans and many serving as further warnings about our bad habits. According to BirdLife International, one eighth—more than 1,200 species—are threatened with extinction. Habitat destruction is a major cause. Birds can’t survive when the places they live, breed and feed are destroyed or altered, and when food supplies are diminished. Chemicals such as PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pesticides are also killing birds, and, like DDT, also often affect humans.

Our insatiable energy appetite also puts birds at risk. Reading some energy-related news and blogs, one might conclude wind power is the biggest bird killer. But that’s far from true. Although poorly situated wind farms, especially ones using older turbine technology, do kill birds, it’s an issue that can be addressed to a large extent, as can problems around solar installations where birds have died. By far the largest energy-related bird killers are fossil fuels, especially coal. Heavy metals like mercury and lead from burning coal kill numerous birds—and even change their songs, which can affect their ability to mate and protect territory. And climate change is affecting many species’ breeding and migratory patterns.

U.S. News and World Report analyzed estimates of how many birds are killed every year by U.S. electricity sources. The numbers are telling: between 1,000 and 28,000 for solar; 140,000 and 328,000 for wind; about 330,000 for nuclear; 500,000 to one million for oil and gas; and a whopping 7.9 million for coal. According to one recent study, between 12 and 64 million birds a year are also killed in the U.S. by transmission lines. The article notes that all those numbers pale in comparison to birds killed by domestic cats: from 1.4 to 3.7 billion a year!

Not only do birds fill us with awe and wonder, but they also provide food and feathers, and keep insects and rodents in check. Their ability to warn us of the drastic ways we’re changing the world’s ecosystems and climate and water cycles can’t be ignored. By working to ensure more species don’t go the way of the passenger pigeon, we’re also protecting ourselves from the effects of environmental destruction.

As individuals, we must conserve energy, shift to cleaner sources and demand that our industrial and political leaders address issues such as pollution and climate change. And we can work to protect wetlands and other bird habitat. We can also join the legions of citizen scientists who are contributing to avian knowledge by posting information to sites such as eBird.org.

It’s not really just for the birds; it’s for all of us.

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

David Suzuki: Put People Before Politics

Global Warming Deniers Become More Desperate By the Day

The Blue Dot Tour: The Right to Breathe Fresh Air, Drink Clean Water and Eat Healthy Food

54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Maria Symchych-Navrotska / Getty Images

By Pamela Davis-Kean

With in-person instruction becoming the exception rather than the norm, 54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Initial projections from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which conducts research and creates commonly used standardized tests, suggest that these fears are well-grounded, especially for children from low-income families.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A teenager reads a school English assignment at home after her school shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 22, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

The pandemic has affected everyone, but mental health experts warn that youth and teens are suffering disproportionately and that depression and suicide rates are increasing.

Read More Show Less

Trending

In an ad released by Republican Voters Against Trump, former coronavirus task force member Olivia Troye roasted the president for his response. Republican Voters Against Trump / YouTube

Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Climate Group

Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A field of sunflowers near the Mehrum coal-fired power station, wind turbines and high-voltage lines in the Peine district of Germany on Aug. 3, 2020. Julian Stratenschulte / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch