Birds you see everyday are not safe from extinction Museum mount of the last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, that died in 1914 (Carl Hansen / Smithsonian)
Birds you see everyday are not safe from extinction
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Pigeons today are so common that youd think they are indestructible, but think again. The pigeon you find practically all over the world today is the Rock Dove (Columba livia), from the same family as the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius).

Passenger Pigeons were once so abundant that people assumed they could never go extinct. They were freely shot, netted, and smoked out of nests until they did go extinct 100 years ago.

Even bird species that seem common are vulnerable to extinction from human impacts. Features of a birds life history may intersect with human activities for a lethal outcome.

For the Passenger Pigeon, its habit of hanging out in huge flocks allowed hunters and trappers to kill hundreds at a time. For the infamous Dodo bird of Mauritius, its habit of nesting on the ground made it easy prey for rats and pigs. For todays familiar Rock Dove, some other feature of its life history may eventually be its downfall.

Scientists who study birds (ornithologists) work to understand what factors drive birds to extinction. They use fossil and historical evidence to peer into bird populations in the past to provide evidence about cause and effect. The history of bird extinctions on islands is especially dramatic because of their isolation.

Find out how native bird species on the Hawaiian Islands went from hundreds to handfuls.

Join us Thursday, Dec. 11, for a "Smithsonian Science How" live webcast titled Bird Extinctions: Time Travel Through Lava Tubes, airing at 11 am and 2 pm (ET) on the National Museum of Natural History's Q?rius website.

Dr. Helen James, a paleo-ornithologist at the National Museum of Natural History, will appear live to discuss and answer questions.

Get teaching resources to support your webcast experience and be sure to watch for Smithsonian museum happenings as part of Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America.

Critical thinking challenge: What mistakes did people make that led to the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon?

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COMMENTS (26)
  • havenr-Koc
    12/05/2014 - 08:11 p.m.

    You would never guess that the pigeon species could ever possibly go extinct. My dad thinks pigeons are dumb but personally I think they are very cute and all just try to survive. No species can ever live forever, well with the exception of cockroach's.

  • coreyong-Koc
    12/07/2014 - 11:52 p.m.

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  • mattf-Koc
    12/08/2014 - 01:14 a.m.

    It's interesting to know that a type of pigeon had once gone extinct. It's even more interesting to think that another could follow suit. I see pigeons every day, they are something I had once thought of as meaningless and something that will always be there. I think I will be rethinking my thought process on that now.

  • mosesv-Koc
    12/08/2014 - 01:35 a.m.

    It is very shocking that birds are going extint. I would never expect that common pigeons are going extinct in today's population. I think it's very interesting to learn about the population of today's pigeons.

  • r2000soccer
    12/08/2014 - 08:39 a.m.

    people make that led to the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon is they hunt and trap Passenger Pigeon
    to kill hundreds at a time. that's the people mistake that they kill passenger pigeon.

  • NW2000Basketball
    12/08/2014 - 08:43 a.m.

    the mistakes the people made were shooting the birds down . not letting them live in their environment. and now they aren't a lot left.

  • TF00Music
    12/08/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    Some people wanted to hunt the bird and kill them and trap them, killing the pigeons in the process. Just because you see birds everyday of the same species doesn't mean that they aren't going extinct.

  • JacobM-5
    12/08/2014 - 01:13 p.m.

    This article is about how common people think that birds are indestructible and don't live hard lives. It talks about the truth in how hard it is to live like a bird. And how some species are close to extinction. I think this article is nice to know about in common day life to understand how they live.

  • JB2001Doge
    12/09/2014 - 08:38 a.m.

    Honestly, why are they not trying to help animals, people are going to kill animals... But, they need to find a way of not killing an animal, for their meat, skin or anything they need from the animals...

  • tyresel-Orv
    12/09/2014 - 11:33 p.m.

    Well of course they aren't safe from extinction, if they are so vulnerable they are more likely to die quicker than other birds. Im not surprised that the passenger pigeon went extinct especially if people freely kill them.

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