‘There can be no doubt(ing) reports of vast flocks that darkened the sky, and that the weight of their numbers in trees caused branches to collapse to the forest floor.’
This description – of a sighting of the abundant populations of the now extinct Passenger Pigeon – is a reminder that it is in the bird populations that extinction is most clearly documented.
‘The loss of the Passenger Pigeon, perhaps once the most numerous birds on Earth, is the most damning of all human-caused extinctions: it defies belief that a species so abundant could be exterminated in such a short period of time. Before the settlement of the continent by Europeans, the range of the Passenger Pigeon extended through the deciduous forests of North America, from the Great Plains east to the Atlantic, north to extreme southern Canada, and south to Virginia and northern Mississippi. In winter the birds migrated south to the south-eastern United States and the Caribbean slope of Central Mexico … They were vagrants to Florida, and there are records from the British Isles, though there are doubts about their authenticity. Audubon himself imported 350 live birds to England in March 1830, and distributed them amongst several noblemen.’
Extinct Birds 2017 Ed. Julian P. Hume
In the Nature Studies series, I worked with bird specimens from a variety of museum collections, many of which have seen their populations impacted significantly in modern times.