How Did Passenger Pigeons Become Extinct?

February 6, 2019
First Published On: February 6, 2019
by HitBerry Team

When we think of endangered species and extinction, we mostly think of rhinoceros, leopards, or other exotic animals out there in the wild, suffering due to human actions.

But have you ever looked at pigeons around you and thought about what would happen if they went extinct?

I mean, they’re pigeons. They’re everywhere. How could they disappear from the planet?

Well, around 100 years ago, in the Cincinnati Zoo, Martha, the last surviving member of the Passenger Pigeons, took her last breath, causing her species to officially go extinct. And for the first time, it made people ask the same question.

How did Passenger Pigeons disappear?

Passenger Pigeons were known for their large community, flying in huge masses and formations in the past.

Beth Shapiro, one of the researchers from the University of California, is mentioned in a Forbes article saying, “There are crazy historic records about this thing blocking out the daytime sky for hours at a time.”

And these pigeons could feed on acorns and beechnuts like nobody’s business, scouring the forests to find their favorite food of choice.

So how did these birds, known for their huge population size go from being everywhere to dying out in captivity at a zoo?

Well, several studies have been conducted on this.

Shapiro said, "We were hoping that we could get to the bottom of why they went extinct so quickly — why it was that this giant population of birds suddenly became extinct, entirely extinct, over the course of just a couple of decades."

Originally, genetic research done in the past claimed that Passenger Pigeons often had dramatic rises and falls in their population throughout history. And that it was during the decline period that the mass hunting of these birds took it to another level of vulnerability.

But a new analysis shows that these birds always had a stable population, and their increased vulnerability was due to the massive hunting that took place since the 19th century.

These studies conducted on Passenger Pigeons still leaves a lot to be answered though. They don’t have a satisfactory explanation or a detailed understanding of the ‘why’ part yet.

Now, let’s get to this hunting thing. Why were these birds hunted on such a massive scale?

Well, there are a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the passenger pigeons were hunted as game, their tasty meat acting a catalyst for their increased hunting. And the more people saw the abundance of these birds around them, the more they hunted, as they were sure to bring down two or three pigeons out of the massive flying flocks.

Also, the fact that these birds fed on the same sources of food that the farmers largely depended on to fatten up their hogs and store their meat for winter only encouraged Passenger Pigeons to be a target.

Secondly, it wasn’t just their mass murder. Their habitats were also being destroyed, their nests were being destroyed, and the newly hatched birds were being eaten as delicacies.

In other words, they were being attacked on all fronts.

Shapiro further stated, “The passenger pigeon extinction was avoidable. It was entirely our fault. We over-hunted and over-exploited this amazing animal, and we should try to be careful about what we're doing today,”.

Humans were actually killing off this species of Passenger Pigeons at such a careless and indifferent rate that even the biological process of adaptation was unable to catch up.

These birds had little chance to respond to their massively changing environment or habitat, and before they knew it, they were gone.

Now, the only place that you can see these birds are as preserved forms in museums.

They serve as grim reminders of an unprecedented event that has shown the world the price of intense over-exploitation and mass killings.

Passenger Pigeons are one of the many targets of our greedy actions.

And they perfectly capture what happens when you mess with nature at such a rate that species like these that were once numbered in billions can fade out of existence over the period of just fifty years, due to nothing but sheer human effort bent at its destruction.

Really makes you think, doesn’t it?