NEK Audubon's Bird Notes On September 1, 1914, an elderly lady of 29 named Martha died without any descendants, but attended by a host of scientists. She had lived her entire long life in Cincinnati, her final years alone but well cared for by highly trained and attentive caregivers. Martha had always been lovely, with her sleek lines, shimmering colors, and gentle bearing, but only in her quiet death did humans begin to appreciate the loss of all she stood for. At the moment of Martha’s passing, one hundred years ago, her species - the Passenger Pigeon – became extinct.
The story of the Passenger Pigeon is a cautionary tale for the species, Homo sapiens, which single-handedly erased this most abundant bird species from the Earth. A comprehensive review of this story, informed by a contemporary naturalist’s understanding of the value of biological diversity, marks this centennial. Joel Greenberg’s A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction explores the natural history, cultural meaning, and slaughter of a bird whose population numbered in the multiple billions just forty years before Martha’s death. Dense waves of millions of Passenger Pigeons periodically darkened the skies of eastern North America for millennia before the late 19th century, when they succumbed to the shotgun, habitat conversion, and a burgeoning human population’s demand for ready protein and calories. Martha spent her entire life in the Cincinnati Zoo, and even then she was a famous symbol of loss.
On Saturday, March 15, from 3 to 5 p.m., Joel Greenberg will bring the sad story of the Passenger Pigeon to the Fairbanks Museum, where he will offer a richly illustrated and astonishing account of the vulnerability and ultimate extinction of this extraordinary bird. His presentation, co-sponsored by the Museum and Northeast Kingdom Audubon, will include a book signing for those who wish to delve more deeply into Greenberg’s richly detailed and instructive account. Greenberg’s audience will also be encouraged to explore with fresh perspective the Museum’s rare specimens of Passenger Pigeons.
In recent years, much public attention has been directed toward the growing understanding of the value and global importance of bio-diversity, the still uncounted millions of life forms with which we share the planet, and the mass extinction of these life forms underway as a result of human activities. Joel Greenberg’s program will offer a poignant reminder of the meaning of extinction, as exemplified by a single charismatic species now gone forever.
Joel Greenberg is a research associate of the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Field Museum. An award-winning natural history teacher, writer, and blogger, Greenberg is a founder of Project Passenger Pigeon: Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future (see www.passengerpigeon.org ). For more information about his March 15 presentation at the Fairbanks Museum, contact the Museum at 802-748-2372 or www.fairbanksmuseum.org.
From December 2013 Join the Annual Christmas Bird Count
The holiday season in Vermont is filled with traditions, from festive lights and family gatherings to First Night celebrations and long hours of football. Another long-standing tradition is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count or CBC, a chance to join thousands of others across the Americas contributing to greater understanding and conservation of wintering birds. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.
The local CBC count area, a circle centered in Barnet and including communities and bird habitats from St. Johnsbury to Monroe and from Peacham to Littleton, hosts a variety of habitats and features about 40 hardy species of wintering birds, from tiny Golden-crowned Kinglets to noisy Blue Jays to majestic Bald Eagles. Each year, the Barnet Christmas Bird Count takes place on New Year’s Day, with intrepid groups traveling defined routes that take them through a range of habitats to count every bird they see. Sponsored by Northeast Kingdom Audubon, this count also invites bird feeder watchers and night-time owlers to join the fun. Birders of all levels of skill and experience are welcome.
Local CBC coordinator Charlie Browne notes that each year’s count yields surprises, from lingering Eastern Bluebirds to flocks of Snow Buntings from the far north. Volunteers for this year’s Barnet Christmas Bird Count should contact him at 802-592-3545 for details and route assignments.
Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action. From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for the love of birds, with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.