Birds you see everyday are not safe from extinction
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
Lexile: 1170L

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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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Assigned 14 times

  • SoleilE-5
    12/10/2014 - 06:31 p.m.

    One hundred years ago, the Passenger Pigeon, a bird so abundant hunters trapped them in groups and smoked them out of nests, went extinct. Even before that, the Dodo Bird went extinct because of hunters. Today, ornithologists fear the extinction of the Rock Dove, the most common pigeon today. Ornithologists are trying to spread awareness of the species to save it from extinction.
    I think it is tragic that, yet again, humanity has failed to realize the consequences of their careless actions that have resulted in the extinction of even the most abundant species. However, I think ornithologists are doing a great thing by spreading awareness. After all, that is all they can really do.

  • audria7-man
    12/11/2014 - 11:10 a.m.

    People see birds in everyday-life. Birds are very important and can be very helpful to some people. Some people shoot birds and cook them. Ornithologists are scientists who study birds. Their are a lot of different kinds of birds in the United States Of America.

  • matthew15-man
    12/11/2014 - 11:10 a.m.

    People thought that the passenger pigeon had a very big population and could never go extinct. We hunted and shot them just for the fun of it. It is our fault and we have no one else to blame.

  • jalyen4-man
    12/11/2014 - 11:10 a.m.

    To me, I find this article interesting because I am an animal lover. Today pigeon's life is hard, and this paragraph opened my eyes about the struggles these birds go through everyday just to live freely and peacefully. I think this article will open your eyes and push you to protect these birds.

  • kyla16-man
    12/11/2014 - 11:12 a.m.

    If we know that birds are in danger of extinction, we should do something about . Birds are sweet animals and there is no reason for them to be extinct . We can help out at least once . We can't just sit around
    and not do anything .

  • james19-man
    12/11/2014 - 11:13 a.m.

    The passenger pigeon was once so common and abundant that people thought that they could kill them without hesitating just because of the sheer size of them in the world! The Rock Dove, probably the most common pigeon to date, could also become extinct just as the Rock Dove did. The article talks about the problem of birds going extinct and which birds have gone extinct from certain causes. As said in the article, when there is so much of a thing, people think that it couldn't possibly ever die out, but they are wrong. Because the passenger pigeon went extinct this very way, people mindlessly killing them because there was so many!

  • precious9-man
    12/11/2014 - 12:10 p.m.

    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). It comes from the same

  • india13-man
    12/11/2014 - 12:11 p.m.

    I really like this passage because it is something new I did not know this before I read this I would like to see more like this

  • EW2001blue
    12/11/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    Passenger pigeons were led to extinction because humans hunted them/ shot them because they traveled in groups. People netted them and they were smoked out of their nests. People thought they would never go extinct since there was so many of them, but these actions add up over time and the numbers started to decrease more and more till the birds were completely gone. That's what people did that led passenger pigeons to extinction.

  • matthew26-man
    12/11/2014 - 01:26 p.m.

    why should birds be extinct because the bird population is not being where it should be. maybe people should try and get to know birds and stop hating them for no reason at all. birds are lovable creatures it is just the way you come at them or look at them. why cant you extinct some other animal instead of this one.

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