|Posted by Matt on September 8, 2014 at 5:30 PM|
As national media makes coverage of the centennial of the Passenger Pigeon's extinction on September 1st, and the general public is reintroduced to the pantheon of extinct North American birds, us birders always seem to recall the "forgotten ones": those extinct birds that seem to get no exposure nowadays outside of the birding community. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker became a folk hero several years ago when it was "rediscovered" in the Cache River of Arkansas. The Heath Hen story is a Martha's Vineyard staple- probably one of the few extinct birds with a gift shop named after it! The Carolina Parakeet is celebrated as the northernmost parrot. The Great Auk has both a journal and formerly a cigarette brand named after this antipodean penguin. The Passenger Pigeon, of course, is the extinction branded into the American conscience by guilt. Mass slaughter of pigeons at their nesting sites reduced numbers from 5 billion to none in a century. But the Labrador Duck? This piebald sea-goer was probably never common. It fed on molluscs living off the shores of New England and Atlantic Canada. Their diet was a double-edged sword: it made the Labrador Duck distasteful, and unsuitable for hunting. However, molluscs need pristine water conditions to thrive. When the Industrial Revolution began, effluent from coastal cities was piped untreated into the ocean. As it was, the Long Island Sound was the Labrador Duck's primary wintering area... by 1880 they were extinct. The Eskimo Curlew was shot by the hundreds on their New England migration areas and the extinction of one of its primary food sources in the Great Plains, a grasshopper species, further depleted the Curlew's numbers. The Eskimo Curlew was last seen definitivley in the 1960s but sporadic reports continue to this day. The Bachman's Warbler had a similar fate. Formerly an uncommon breeder in the canebrakes of the Southeast, there are still a few lucky birders alive who were fortunate enough to spy Bachman's Warblers while they were still around. Wintering in Cuba, much of the Warbler's habitat was converted into agricultural areas, and in the southeast many canebrakes were converted into pine plantations. The last stronghold was I'on Swamp near Charleston, SC although the final confirmed report was in 1988 in Louisiana. And the Dusky Seaside Sparrow (an extinct subspecies, like the Heath Hen) formerly inhabited marshy areas in South Florida. A poster child for conservation in the 1980s, efforts to save the sparrow failed when a fire destroyed the home of the last colony of sparrows. Now, even Dusky Seaside Sparrows are forgotten by most of the general public.
These are just North American examples of the Earth's "6th Great Extinction": one brought about by humans.