Why the passenger pigeon became extinct

140106_r24450_p465Jonathan Rosen at The New Yorker:

Imagine that tomorrow morning you woke up and discovered that the familiar rock pigeon—scientifically known as Columba livia, popularly known as the rat with wings—had disappeared. It was gone not simply from your window ledge but from Piazza San Marco, Trafalgar Square, the Gateway of India arch, and every park, sidewalk, telephone wire, and rooftop in between. Would you grieve for the loss of a familiar creature, or rip out the spikes on your air-conditioner and celebrate? Perhaps your reaction would depend on the cause of the extinction. If the birds had been carried off in a mass avian rapture, or a pigeon-specific flu, you might let them pass without guilt, but if they had been hunted to death by humans you might feel honor-bound to genetically engineer them back to life.

This thought experiment occurred to me while reading “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction” (Bloomsbury), Joel Greenberg’s study of a bird that really did vanish after near-ubiquity, and that really is the subject of Frankenpigeon dreams of resurrection. Even before the age of bioengineering, Ectopistes migratorius could seem as much science-fiction fable as fact, which is why it is good to have Greenberg’s book, the first major work in sixty years about the most famous extinct species since the dodo.

more here.