"Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be sh*t out through wholesome American guts."
- William S. Burroughs, Thanksgiving Prayer
Once, there were many billions of passenger pigeons in America. Then the "settlers" arrived. As one of those settlers wrote in the 1600's: "There are wild pigeons in winter beyond number or imagination, myself have seen three or four hours together flocks in the air, so thick that even have they shadowed the sky from us."
"By anyone's estimation, it was the most abundant bird on Earth," writes Alan Wiesman in his book, The World Without Us. "Its flocks, 300 miles long and numbering in the billions, spanned horizons fore and aft, actually darkening the sky." As late as April 1873, residents of Saginaw, Michigan witnessed "a continuous stream of passenger pigeons overhead between 7.30 in the morning and 4 o'clock in the afternoon."
By 1900, however, all the wild passenger pigeons had been killed by humans. Fourteen years later, the last passenger pigeon died in captivity. Once, there were many billions of passenger pigeons in America. Now there are none.
This might have been the most dramatic example of avicide. Today, the methods by which human activities kill birds are far more varied but no less deadly:
*As many as 80 million birds are killed each year by collisions with plate glass windows.
*60 to 80 million birds are killed each year by motor vehicles. This averages out to roughly 15 bird deaths per mile per year.
*120 million birds are murdered by hunters each year.
*Feline companions allowed to roam free kill about 4 million birds each day in North America alone. Worldwide, the yearly number of birds killed by domestic cats is in the billions.
*There are 77,000 radio-transmission towers higher than 199 feet in the U.S. and nearly 200 million birds collide fatally with these towers per year. Add in 175,000 cell phone towers and the number of dead birds approaches a half-billion annually.
*Then, of course, you have habitat loss, environmental toxins, introduced diseases, and the biggest bird killer of all: the meat-based diet, e.g. every day, 23 million chickens are killed in the U.S. for food. That's 269 dead chickens per second.
It's Hitchcock in reverse as the planet's most destructive species systematically slaughters everything in its path.
Once, there were many billions of passenger pigeons in America. Now there are none.