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A Feathered River Across the Sky

by Joel Greenberg

A Feathered River Across the Sky
£18.99 Add to basket

Description

In the early nineteenth century 25 to 40 per cent of North America's birds were Passenger Pigeons travelling 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. Feeding flocks would appear as a blue wave four or five feet high rolling towards you. 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 streamed over 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 railways and telegraph lines created national markets 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 far too late. Greenberg's beautifully written story of the passenger pigeon provides a cautionary tale of what happens when species and natural resources are not harvested sustainably. Greenberg's beautifully written story of the Passenger Pigeon provides a cautionary tale of what happens when natural resources are not harvested sustainably.

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    September 1st, 2014 marked the centenary of one of the best-documented extinctions in history – the demise of the Passenger Pigeon. From being the commonest bird on the planet 50 years earlier, the species became extinct on that fateful day, with the death in Cincinnati Zoo of Martha – the last of her kind. This book tells the tale of the Passenger Pigeon, and of Martha, and of author Mark Avery's journey in search of them. It looks at how the species was a cornerstone of the now much-diminished ecology of the eastern United States, and how the species went from a population that numbered in the billions to nil in a terrifyingly brief period of time. It also explores the largely untold story of the ecological annihilation of this part of America in the latter half of the 19th century, a time that saw an unprecedented loss of natural beauty and richness as forests were felled and the prairies were ploughed, with wildlife slaughtered more or less indiscriminately. Despite the underlying theme of loss, this book is more than another depressing tale of human greed and ecological stupidity. It contains an underlying message – that we need to re-forge our relationship with the natural world on which we depend, and plan a more sustainable future. Otherwise more species will go the way of the Passenger Pigeon. We should listen to the message from Martha.

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