14 May 2014

Chronicles of the Extinct Passenger Pigeon

Original perspectives about vast variety of birds in northern America convey have been an ongoing interest. The original diverse sources convey such unique details of species and their occurrence during past times. This is especially prominent for the long-gone Passenger Pigeon, with Martha, the last living representative, who died in September, 1914.

There is a multitude of accounts of many sorts of writing about the history of this bird. Despite extensive research in former decades, newly available and significant resources have become available for consideration and study. The great number of periodicals — especially newspapers — that are provided online can be searched for pertinent details. In some cases, there is a browse feature which is so essential for comparative purposes. All of the bits of news, especially when considering scattered reports associated with different sorts of bird, are important to any consideration of the history of the Passenger Pigeon.

Because of years of attention to source material that indicate the historic occurrence of one type of bird or another, online resources have been evaluated time and again for more than twenty years. Much of the known news was considered in particular during December 2013, when the local library, so essential for research purposes was closed for the holidays. Days of attention were given to bibliographic material as already denoted within a database of records. Boxes of photocopies were sorted to find one or another essential piece of paper that might contribute to the history of this one bird species.

It was soon obvious that there are two types of reports. There might be a sentence or two on a page of a newspaper, among the local news or as something of note reported by a community correspondent. Among the many published items, there were also significant stories or articles which represent more extensive coverage, and convey especially unique history, or perhaps something notably interesting.

In 2014, it has been a century since the demise of the Passenger Pigeon. To recognize this dubious anniversary, many of the known stories are presented here in their entirety, which along with earlier transcriptions, provide more than 200 examples of stories reported by country newspapers from 1732 to 1887.

These stories are significant indications of original details on dates of occurrence and particular sites. Some are filled with the lore of taking these birds. A few convey new mysteries associated with the history of these birds. Most important, each indicated details can be closely considered, perhaps mapped geographically and temporally, to convey a fact-based history of unique distinction.

Bibliographic details for each and every item provides a composite source records that might be the basis for further research efforts. There are undoubtedly other records beyond the 1200 already known as found by a tedious search of online newspaper resources, with an additional 1400 from history from other sources.

This evaluation of historic ornithology of northern America, is quite unique, and is the result of attention to details for an extended time. It has certainly been a process. It is also an example of how the bird history for northern America can be further considered. The entirety of records of many sorts have and will provide a better understanding of northern America birdlife during historic times. The same methodology can be extended to a worldwide basis.

Currently, there seems to be a myopic perspective of addressing one sliver here or there, perhaps based upon one species or a particular locality, and as issued by disparate sources. History of every species deserve equal consideration, and therein is the challenge. Details associated with specimens, journal articles, books, newspaper stories, personal narratives, etc. need to be combined into one readily-available online source, so that as additional sources become known, they can be appropriately added.

How grand it would be to understand in detail the history of one species or another. Or consider the historic distribution, with an option to evaluate the temporal aspects. Then add in the opportunity to realize birdlife of historic places. What a wonder it would be. It could lead to new contributions, new understanding, special collaborations all in association with a profoundly new realization of historic ornithology.

Who will be the first university professor who's area of expertise is the history of ornithology. If it would work out, I'd like to be among the students that signup for a class that is focused upon this subject. It is only a matter of time...