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). 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

Q?rius website.

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?

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COMMENTS (90)
  • ozaragoza0623
    12/05/2014 - 04:43 p.m.

    Birds are not close to extinction sure there is dogs or cats that could eat them but there is about more than us on this plant .

  • Kaylab-5
    12/05/2014 - 07:26 p.m.

    This article is about pigeons. The pigeon that we see everyday could indeed become extinct. They are vulnerable and stay in groups. This is very important to keep in mind. I will be much more alert about this situation.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    12/05/2014 - 11:27 p.m.

    That's awful! The people in the United states must be killing these pigeons that is one of our bird species is about to be extincted cause our human activities are harming these species in our world which is a common type of bird that is living in North America is going to be extincted forever from earth. We are going to have to protect the pigeons from being extincted from earth forever from us like the black-horned Rino got extincted from Africa two years ago when my second grade teacher had told everybody that in my classroom.

  • SebastianH-1
    12/06/2014 - 11:44 a.m.

    Pigeons are so common that they cannot go extinct anytime soon, right? That is not the case. One of their close relatives, the Messenger pigeon was extremely common a hundred years ago, and then they were overhunted and went extinct. Our world is very dangerous for them. This article was well written and easy to comprehent. It went off topic toward the end.

  • MaggieM-3
    12/06/2014 - 11:47 a.m.

    People see pigeons so often they don't think that they could ever be endangered or even go extinct, but that is not true. The common pigeon you see everyday is the Rock Dove and it comes in the same family as a pigeon, now extinct, the passenger pigeon. There was once so many passenger pigeons people killed them all the time without thinking they might become endangered. Eventually all of the people killing them caused them to go extinct a hundred years ago. One reason this happened is because they hung out in large flocks so lots of them could be killed at one time. Another bird that was extinct because of having a dangerous habit was the Dodo bird, because they made there nests on the ground, they were easily eaten by other animals.
    While I think that it is sad that birds go extinct, I think that sometimes people make to big of a deal out of a animal like the Dodo that went extinct because of a natural cause. It is the process of evolution and some species must die to make way for new ones.

  • nylienc-Koc
    12/07/2014 - 11:43 p.m.

    Its kinda of understandable because people usually don't lie these birds and don't worry about them going extinct so tey just smoke them out or hunt them in big groups thinking that won't go extinct. The only reason for that though is because there really is a big amount of them. I think if the states put them as endangered species for about a year or three they will immediatley come back.

  • jakes-Koc
    12/08/2014 - 12:45 a.m.

    I feel as if pigeons allow themselves to get killed and go extinct. Most species that still exist only exist by adapting to change and knowing how to survive. But most pigeons don't try to change their natural habits to survive.

  • ryanb-Koc
    12/08/2014 - 02:30 a.m.

    I would've never guessed, it's surprising to hear such a statement of a bird everyone takes for granted. Given I can't think of the practicality of this bird in this time and age, but I have never tried to harm them. I feel it's a shame that people make sport out of any living creature.

  • thanhn-Koc
    12/08/2014 - 03:21 a.m.

    Wow. I never thought that pigeons would be extinct. But then again, I never really cared in the first place. Same way as I do now.

  • JM2000Blue
    12/08/2014 - 08:36 a.m.

    People hunted the whole flock of passenger pigeons instead of doing the appropriate thing and just take one. People got greedy and before they knew it the passenger pigeon was gone.

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