Cover image for A feathered river across the sky : the passenger pigeon's flight to extinction
Title:
A feathered river across the sky : the passenger pigeon's flight to extinction
Author:
Greenberg, Joel (Joel R.), author.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.
Physical Description:
xiii, 289 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 21 cm
Summary:
Naturalist Joel Greenberg relates how the pigeons' propensity to nest, roost, and fly together in vast numbers made them vulnerable to unremitting market and recreational hunting. His cautionary tale provides a close look at what happens when species and natural resources are not harvested sustainably.
Language:
English
Contents:
Life of the wanderer -- My blood shall be your blood : Indians and passenger pigeons -- A legacy of awe -- Pigeons as provisions to pigeons as products -- Means of destruction -- Profiles in killing -- The tempest was spent : the last great nestings -- Flights to the finish -- Martha and her kin : the captive flocks -- Extinction and beyond -- Appendix: A passenger pigeon miscellany.
ISBN:
9781620405369
Format :
Book

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QL696.C6 G74 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

In the early nineteenth century 25 to 40 percent of North America's birds were passenger pigeons, traveling in flocks so massive as to block out the sun for hours or even days. The down beats of their wings would chill the air beneath and create a thundering roar that would drown out all other sound. Feeding flocks would appear as a blue wave four or five feet high rolling toward you.
John James Audubon, impressed by their speed and agility, said a lone passenger pigeon streaking through the forest passes like a thought. How prophetic-for although a billion pigeons streamed over Toronto in May of 1860, little more than fifty years later passenger pigeons were extinct. The last of the species, Martha, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.
As naturalist Joel Greenberg relates in gripping detail, the pigeons' propensity to nest, roost, and fly together in vast numbers made them vulnerable to unremitting market and recreational hunting. The spread of railroads and telegraph lines created national markets that allowed the birds to be pursued relentlessly. Passenger pigeons inspired awe in the likes of Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, and others, but no serious effort was made to protect the species until it was way too late. Greenberg's beautifully written story of the passenger pigeon provides a cautionary tale of what happens when species and natural resources are not harvested sustainably.


Author Notes

Joel Greenberg is a research associate of the Field Museum and the Chicago Academy of Sciences Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The author of three books, including A Natural History of the Chicago Region. Greenberg helped spearhead Project Passenger Pigeon to focus attention on human-caused extinctions. He lives in Westmont, Illinois. Visit his blog at Birdzilla.com. His website is w.w.w.joelgreenberg.com.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This book contains many historical accounts of passenger pigeon flocks that darkened whole skies for hours at a time. These staggering numbers also started the bird's troubles. Pigeon hordes devoured crops and sown seeds, and the sheer weight of millions of pigeons swarming to roost altered whole forests. ­Pigeon-harvesting companies with spring-loaded nets were the most efficient killers, though in a single pigeon rookery, hunters armed with long poles would in a matter of hours knock tens of thousands of plump, almost-fledged chicks from their nests. Thousands of tons of dead pigeons were wasted: spoiled on train cars and wagons; thought worthless and dumped on the way to market; ground into fertilizer; fed to hogs; left lying in the field. This book regurgitates too much dry research and too many passing encounters with pigeons, but it does show how few ninteenth-century Americans including scientists could even imagine conservation. And when Greenberg mentions the nineteenth-century-type slaughter still going on in our relatively lawless oceans, he shows the insidious nature of greed and apathy.--Carr, Dane Copyright 2010 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

September 1, 2014, will mark 100 years since Martha, a lone passenger pigeon living in the Cincinnati Zoo, died. To the best of our knowledge she was the last member of her species. Naturalist Greenberg, a research associate at the Field Museum and the Chicago Academy of Sciences Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, effectively demonstrates that the extinction of passenger pigeons was a shocking event not simply because the species once enjoyed a population "that may have exceeded that of every other bird on earth, and its aggregations surpassed in numbers those of every other terrestrial vertebrate on the continent," but also because its demise was so swift, with the population crashing from upwards of a billion to zero in about 40 years. Greenberg pulls together a wealth of material from myriad sources to describe the life and death of this species, describing the majesty of millions flying overhead for hours as well as the horror of tens of thousands of birds being slaughtered while they nested . He also examines the larger lessons to be learned from such an ecological catastrophe-brought on by commercial exploitation and deforestations, among other causes-in this "planet's sixth great episode of mass extinctions." Greenberg has crafted a story that is both ennobling and fascinating. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

As the centenary of the passenger pigeon's extinction nears, Greenberg (A Natural History of the Chicago Region) offers this cautionary tale of the once most populous bird on earth. Ectopistes migratorius gathered in numbers hard to imagine-John James Audubon estimated a flock's size over Kentucky in 1813 at a billion or more-so many that the "sky was black with birds for three days." But as awesome as was their abundance, their slaughter, sadly, may be more poignant. When the plunder changed from hunters looking to put an easy meal on the table to professional "pigeoners" seeking to take advantage of national markets for pigeon meat, fat, and feathers, the gradual decline that began at the start of the 19th century became catastrophic by the 1870s. Greenberg's sifting of the historical record shows how a variety of factors-e.g., the use of the telegraph to report locations of immense nesting colonies to be pillaged, the completion of the eastern railroad network, complete habitat destruction-sealed the bird's fate. -VERDICT The human folly depicted here is as deep as the pigeons were numerous, and the author's occasionally mordant comments on the grim events give the book an added charge, making his intended "teaching moment" certain. Highly recommended.-Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
1 Life of the Wandererp. 1
2 My Blood Shall Be Your Blood: Indians and Passenger Pigeonsp. 31
3 A Legacy of Awep. 46
4 Pigeons as Provisions to Pigeons as Productsp. 68
5 Means of Destructionp. 91
6 Profiles in Killingp. 109
7 The Tempest Was Spent: The Last Great Nestingsp. 129
8 Flights to the Finishp. 156
9 Martha and Her Kin: The Captive Flocksp. 178
10 Extinction and Beyondp. 190
Appendix: A Passenger Pigeon Miscellanyp. 209
Acknowledgmentsp. 243
Notesp. 245
Bibliographyp. 261
Indexp. 275