Birds you see everyday are not safe from extinction
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 family as the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migrators).
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. That was 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 are called ornithologists. They work to understand what factors drive birds to extinction. They use fossil and historical evidence to peer into bird populations in the past. That provides 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
Dr. Helen James, a paleo-ornithologist at the National Museum of Natural History, will appear live. She will 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?