20140829-NYT-DuBois-extinction0831-600x298.jpg

Passenger pigeons once migrated over New England in flocks so dense they darkened the skies. An early visitor to Plymouth Colony observed, “One man at six shoots hath killed 400.” Less than 300 years later 

Saving Our Birds

September 30, 2014

20140829-NYT-DuBois-extinction0831-600x298.jpg

Passenger pigeons once migrated over New England in flocks so dense they darkened the skies. An early visitor to Plymouth Colony observed, “One man at six shoots hath killed 400.” Less than 300 years later, in September 1914, the last passenger pigeon—a female named for Martha Washington—died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Ornithologist John Fitzpatrick eulogizes these quintessentially American birds in the New York Times, reflecting on a century of conservation failures and success stories since Martha’s death. “Timely conservation action really does work, even for species that have reached alarmingly low numbers,” he argues. The trick is to take action before populations dwindle—before it’s too late:

Preserving abundance in nature is ecologically just as important as rescuing rare species en route to extinction. The passenger pigeon taught us that even the most numerous species can undergo population collapses in astonishingly short periods of time. Cod fishermen of the North Atlantic learned the same painful lesson just two decades ago. It is far more effective and cost-efficient to conserve a species while it is abundant than to wait until it reaches the brink.

Read more in the New York Times.