A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction
When Europeans arrived in North America, 25 to 40 percent of the continent's birds were passenger pigeons, traveling in flocks so massive as to block out the sun for hours or even days. The downbeats of their wings would chill the air beneath and create a thundering roar that would drown out all other sound. John James Audubon, impressed by their speed and agility, said a lone passenger pigeon streaking through the forest "passes like a thought." How prophetic-for although a billion pigeons crossed the skies 80 miles from Toronto in May of 1860, little more than fifty years later passenger pigeons were extinct. The last of the species, Martha, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.
As naturalist Joel Greenberg relates in gripping detail, the pigeons' propensity to nest, roost, and fly together in vast numbers made them vulnerable to unremitting market and recreational hunting. The spread of railroads and telegraph lines created national demand that allowed the birds to be pursued relentlessly. Passenger pigeons inspired awe in the likes of Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, and others, but no serious effort was made to protect the species until it was too late. Greenberg's beautifully written story of the passenger pigeon paints a vivid picture of the passenger pigeon's place in literature, art, and the hearts and minds of those who witnessed this epic bird, while providing a cautionary tale of what happens when species and natural resources are not harvested sustainably.
The first major work in sixty years about the most famous extinct species since the dodo . . . equal parts natural history, elegy, and environmental outcry . . . Answering even basic questions about the passenger pigeon requires a sort of forensic ornithology, which gives FEATHERED RIVER ACROSS THE SKY an unexpected poignancy at the very points where it is most nature-nerdy. (New Yorker)Joel Greenberg has done prodigious research into the literature of the passenger pigeon and lays much of it out in this book. For that effort, all who care about the living world owe him a debt of gratitude. (Wall Street Journal)A brilliant, important, haunting and poignant book, A FEATHERED RIVER ACROSS THE SKY . . . will forever change the way in which you think of pigeons (all birds, really) and about the natural world. (Chicago Tribune)In calm, measured prose, [A FEATHERED RIVER ACROSS THE SKY is] a story of unremitting, wanton, continental-scale destruction. (New York Review of Books)[Greenberg] is a more gifted writer than his predecessor [A. W. Schorger], with an eye for telling detail, a wry sense of humor, and a willingness to grapple with the larger implications of his story. Numerous illustrations . . . add visual appeal to this timely book that will not only be of interest to environmental historians but also to a broad general readership. (Mark V. Barrow Jr., Virginia Tech, USA Environmental History, vol. 19 2014-10-01)
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Climate Change 2014 - Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability: Part B: Regional Aspects: Volume 2, Regional Aspects: Working Group II Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report