Thursday, 29 December 2011
A while ago I missed a brilliant looking exhibition called Ghosts of Gone Birds, which featured dozens of pictures of (mainly) extinct birds. The above is called a Bishop's O'o', and it's by a guy called Ben Newman. Ralph Steadman contributed a number. This next one is less to my taste as a picture, but that's by the by, because it's of the passenger pigeon and I have wanted to write about the passenger pigeon for ages.
You probably know already that when Europeans arrived in North America, perhaps 40% of the continent's birds were passenger pigeons. They flew at 60 mph in flocks miles long that darkened the sky for whole days. Another lost bird project, which again I basically like, says In the 19th century as America’s urban population grew and the demand for wild meat increased, thousands of men became full-time pigeon hunters. It was inconceivable that such natural riches could be destroyed, but they were, and the passenger pigeon is one of the great poster-children for man's unslakeable bloodlust.
One thing these sites do not mention is that if you are a growing population starting to farm on a widespread scale for the first time, then flocks of passenger pigeons are, basically, worse than swarms of locusts. They can eat more than you can grow. I mourn the passing of the pigeon, but we have to remember that these were not jewels of the sky hunted for meat - these were life- and livelihood-destroying pests. Etc.