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A Message from Martha: The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and Its Relevance Today
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message 1: by Becky (new)

Becky Norman | 650 comments Mod
Please add your comments for this book here.

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
Up through chapter two-might contain some spoilers....

I’m always interested in how people interact with the books they read. I enjoy asking questions of my book as I read it, and I underline and notate inside the book as I go along. As a kid I remember being around other readers in the family who thought it was sacrilegious to deface the inside of a book for whatever reasons, but somehow I went against the family-grain and have ever done so.

I’m into chapter two now, and so far, really enjoying A Message from Martha. I’ve read a few articles about the extinction of the passenger pigeon, but I have avoided the books on the subject so far because they seemed focused on all the ways we killed the creatures. I wasn’t sure I was interested in reading 200 plus pages about how we brought about the bird’s demise. Anyway, this book seems well rounded and I suspect may define extinction (in this case) as complex. For example – how could the environment sustain these birds in such numbers?

So far, I’m surprised, but not displeased, the book is written by a British scientist. I love that he has included so many quotes from people who experienced the birds. Avery asks if we can imagine any bird right now that is in so much abundance that we cannot imagine it could ever go extinct. Despite the fact I no longer think any creature can be free from extinction in this era, I gave this question some thought for fun. Would it be an American Robin- the crow…perhaps the rock dove (feral pigeon)? The common pigeon is the one bird that seems to exist in great numbers around the world.

As I read on – I realized there is no bird or animal I know of that exists in anywhere the number and abundance of the passenger pigeon. The numbers of the passenger pigeon is beyond what I can even imagine.

Aldo Leopold is quoted at the beginning of the introduction: “The pigeon was a biological storm.” The pigeons did awesome damage to the trees and landscape as they fed and roosted. This is where the many quotes Avery has included come in as being so powerful- sections of language written by people who saw these birds roosting and feeding. Their descriptions make me wonder how these birds could exist alongside humans.

What do you think? Has anything surprised you so far in your reading of this book?

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
Still reading....

Here is a link to a flock of Red-billed Quelea (mentioned in the book) and considered to be the world's largest bird population at 1.5 billion birds. This video gives you a sense of what the flocks of Passenger Pigeons would have been like as they crossed a landscape. Here we see many birds covering a shrub and one a single branch (these birds are smaller than Passenger Pigeons). You can also see how they move as one entity and appear to roll over a landscape. Also, the films depicts the waiting predators such as was written about by people who saw the Passenger Pigeon at roost and in nesting season.

Finally, I was struck by how these birds' movement looks very much like a huge group of fish swimming in the sea!

message 4: by Ray (new)

Ray Zimmerman | 629 comments Check YouTube for videos of murmuration. Starlings are usually the depicted species.

message 5: by Ray (new)

Ray Zimmerman | 629 comments Murmuration is also the next step in drone technology, particularly for the tiny insect drones.

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
Thanks Ray-- fabulous! Someone else was telling me about the starlings. We have them around our farm, but not in large numbers.

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
Contains mild spoilers…

I guess it is okay to keep posting impressions even if no one else seems to be reading A Message from Martha at the moment.

I mentioned that Avery is British, and as I move into the middle of the book- the tone of the book completely changes, and I’m having quite a fun ride.

The author visits Eastern rural America to see places where the Passenger Pigeon was once prominent. He describes the cafes and hotels he frequents and his interactions with locals. If this was written from the American perspective, it wouldn’t be the same. Avery’s look into rural America in the 21st century is very funny and so familiar. No one seems to care about or to ever have seen a Passenger Pigeon. Or, yes, they saw one just last week.

He visits the zoo where Martha died; he visits Dysart Woods a small section of old growth forest in Ohio that would have been standing at the time of the Passenger Pigeon; he visits the place where the last wild Passenger Pigeon was shot. Each journey presents an interesting and telling juxtaposition for the mind. In some ways mindset doesn’t seem to have changed much since 1900 in this area of Ohio as Avery reveals people and their attitudes. A smallness of mind pervades. To be fair, though, he’s only interacted with a sampling of the people (waitresses, café patrons, hotel clerks, gas station attendants…).

This section of the book is all journal entries—marvelous. I am so enjoying the mixed nature of this book.

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
A Walk Through Dysart Woods

message 9: by Ray (new)

Ray Zimmerman | 629 comments I have only read the first chapter.

message 10: by Ray (new)

Ray Zimmerman | 629 comments But your entries have encouraged me to continue

message 11: by Sher (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
Ray wrote: "I have only read the first chapter."

Oh, okay- well would love to know your thoughts/impressions as you go along.

message 12: by Sher (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
I'm just about through the book. Here is a link to the world's 100 most threatened species. It covers mammals, birds, and plants, and has some of the species that Avery writes about . Just looking down through the list is enlightening and thought provoking- for me anyway.

message 13: by Sher (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
Contains mild spoilers…

So, I continue to enjoy the mixed nature of the book. Mid-way Avery presents an American ecological history (of sorts) from 1838 – 1914 (when Martha the last pigeon died). Each event is presented as a bullet point, and though I’m American and know much of the history- Avery hits many things I really did not know- such as the almost extinction of the Pronghorn Antelope, when barbed wire was invented and that there were two types of Bison in North America and one was driven to extinction. He also covers all the species that went extinct during this time period (in addition to a host of other relevant events). And you get an overwhelming sense, from an ecological standpoint, of what nineteenth century progress meant to the land its creatures.

Avery has quite a sense of humor and he plays with history—what if things happened differently? Would you want Passenger Pigeons to be around today? How do you feel about their demise?

He has some creative and realistic ideas for how the Passenger Pigeon could fit into the 21st century American psychology and business plan.

I’d pay to go and see them --- I find I care about these lost birds, and perhaps it is because I raise performance pigeons (A sort of neighbor species), and I fly my birds, and I also feel a wonderful connection with feral pigeons when I encounter them in cities around the world. I think back on being in Italy or China, and I recall where I saw the pigeons. ☺

So, I tried one of Avery’s ideas out. Went to a family dinner party last night- 8 people ages 10 – 71. I asked, “Do you know what a Passenger Pigeon is – have you ever heard of it.” Everyone perked right up and was eager to answer, but only one other person beside me had any idea what a Passenger Pigeon was, and he proceeded to give many examples of why we should absolutely not have theses birds as part of our Eastern landscape today. Sigh, so I felt as rare a bird as Avery felt when he was in the U.S. asking around about the Passenger Pigeon.

And, yes, someone in my family asked, “Are they coming back?” I had to gently tell her, “No, extinct means we will never see them again.”

message 14: by Sher (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
Read this book for my Nature Lit group, and I found it pretty engaging. A lot of what I thought I knew about the Passenger Pigeon's demise was overturned. After reading this book I came to the opinion that these birds would have a lot of trouble surviving in today's world because of their biology. I don't suggest it was okay that they went extinct; I just question whether they could live in the 21st century since they were communal roosters and they needed unbelievable numbers to survive, and they followed tree mast, and these nut producing forests are gone - at least in the huge tracts that the Passenger Pigeon would need. The author is British, and his writing style is quite folksy and amusing when he is showing sections of his diary when he traveled throughout the U.S. when he traced the route of places relevant to the Passenger Pigeon. He pegged people and activities in small town America right on. It's one thing when an insider writes about small town American life, but seem through the eyes of a Brit was quite fun, and I really enjoyed reading his vignettes of his travels. I also learned about some of the threatened birds in the UK such as the many farm region birds like the Turtle Dove. The book is such a fun mixture of science, natural history, history, and diary entries, it kept me engaged from beginning to end. And, it made me think about extinction and particularly humankind's role in habitat loss for so many species.

message 15: by Sandy (new) - added it

Sandy | 12 comments Sher, I like your review and will make sure to read this book. I enjoy your comments about the author's diary entries.

message 16: by Sher (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sher (sheranne) | 905 comments Mod
Thanks Sandy- I hope you will let us know how you find the book.

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