The two wild turkeys at top are displaying to females. Which one has the best snood? I can’t tell but the females can. Click here to see how the ladies reacted.
(photo credits: two wild turkeys by Cris Hamilton; women wearing snoods from Wikimedia Commons; man wearing a beard snood from sales page at Creeds UK; wild turkey diagram from Wikimedia Commons. click on the images to see the originals)
If successful, they’ll release the new bird in the wild to repopulate eastern North America.
But a new study published this month in Science may throw a wrench in their plan.
Researchers gathered DNA from the toepads of passenger pigeon museum specimens and sequenced the full genomes of four birds. In doing so they discovered that passenger pigeons were extremely diverse at the ends of their chromosomes but had low diversity in the middle. Most animals, including the band-tailed pigeon, aren’t like that. Most animals are diverse all the way through.
This trait may indicate that the passenger pigeon in its final form had evolved to live in enormous flocks.
So, why did this superspecies die out? Shapiro thinks it’s because the bird specifically evolved to live in mega-flocks, and developed adaptations that became costly when their numbers suddenly shrank at human hands. “Maybe they were simply not adapted to being in a small population, and didn’t have time to recover,” she says. Maybe they hit a tipping point when there were just too few of them to survive, regardless of whether they were being hunted.
Would a small population of passenger pigeons be possible in the wild? And could the birds survive in this century’s altered and deforested landscape? Revive and Restore believes the answer is yes.
Can humans bring back the passenger pigeon? Should we try?
In Pennsylvania we have only one kind of pigeon and he isn’t really ours. He’s the descendant of European birds named rock pigeons because they nest on cliffs. This distinguishes them from another European pigeon that nests in trees, the common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus).
Wood pigeons used to be shy and stay in the woods but now they hang out in parks and cities and are the most numerous bird in London, even more numerous than rock pigeons.
When these two encounter each other you can see that “wood” is bigger than “rock.”
In some parts of Europe wood pigeons are migratory. In winter large flocks browse in the fields as shown below. Notice the bright white patches on their necks and white wing bars visible in flight.
When it’s time to nest they’re back in the trees …
… raising baby pigeons in the woods.
(photos and video from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
In the spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast
In the spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest
In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove
In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
A lot of us love birds but we see them from afar. Those who live with them have a special relationship that goes much deeper.
Pigeon fanciers breed and race pigeons but it’s a relationship that goes both ways. The birds benefit from those who care for them and the people are made happy by being with their birds. This video about three New York pigeon fanciers is a window on their world.
As Vincent Outerbridge says, “This is the life. I wouldn’t trade it for nothin’.”
p.s. Pigeons were easy to domesticate because they are docile in the hand. As you can see in the film, they’re so docile that they can be held upside down and passed from hand to hand.