Friday, October 31, 2014

Passenger Pigeon Discussion

The library will hold a discussion of A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction by Joel Greenberg on Monday, November 10 at 7:00 PM. This will be the second in a series of book discussions on the theme “Extinction!”

In the early nineteenth century 25 to 40 percent of North America’s birds were passenger pigeons, traveling in flocks so massive as to block out the sun for hours or even days. But as naturalist Joel Greenberg relates, the pigeons’ propensity to nest, roost, and fly together in vast numbers made them vulnerable to unremitting market and recreational hunting. Although a billion pigeons crossed the skies 80 miles from 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 one hundred years ago, on September 1, 1914.

The passenger pigeon’s demise, as recounted by Greenberg, is “a story of unremitting, wanton, continental-scale destruction,” says the New York Review of Books. It is “equal parts natural history, elegy, and environmental outcry,” says The New Yorker, which notes that, “answering even basic questions about the passenger pigeon requires a sort of forensic ornithology, which gives [this book] an unexpected poignancy at the very points where it is most nature-nerdy.” The Chicago Tribune hailed this account as “a brilliant, important, haunting and poignant book.”

The “Extinction!” series will conclude with a discussion of Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante Pääbo on December 8.

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