This issue of Living Bird examines the extinction process of two birds that barely survived into the 20th century—the Passenger Pigeon and the “Heath Hen,” a subspecies of Greater Prairie-Chicken that formerly lived on the scrubby coastal barrens from New England all the way to Virginia or perhaps even farther south.
We’ve all heard many times about the fate of the Passenger Pigeon—how the most abundant species of bird that ever lived went from a population in the billions to extinction in just a few decades. Author Stephen J. Bodio takes a fresh look at this story, pondering whether human actions, such as burning the forests to clear the land, might actually initially have helped boost the Passenger Pigeon population to the staggering numbers the species reached at its zenith before it was hammered by intensive market hunting and other factors.
Jack Connor takes a walk across the Pygmy Plains of New Jersey—an open area of tough shrubs and dwarf trees—and considers the absence of the Heath Hen, a bird so well adapted to this kind of habitat that the area once made up the heart of its range.
The fate of these two birds should serve as a cautionary tale to help us avoid repeating irretrievable mistakes.
Editor in Chief