Learning from the demise of the Passenger Pigeon
by Tristan Reid
I am currently reading A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction by Joel Greenberg in preparation for writing a review for Birding Frontiers. The story of the Passenger Pigeon is very much linked to my activities in 2014; so as a prequel to my forthcoming review I thought I should share my relationship with this sadly extinct pigeon!
I can safely describe myself as a passionate conservationists with slightly ‘off piste’ methods! When I get an idea in my head, I tend to run with it., expand it and refuse to let it go; no matter how crazy people tell me it is! That said, my plans for 2014 are not really that extreme!
The European Turtle Dove is a beautiful bird that is one of those species that pretty much everyone will have heard of (whether they are a birder or not). It is a species that has been engrained in our culture and consciousness for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. It is without a doubt, considered and iconic British birds!
I remember hearing the evocative purring of the Turtle Dove regularly as a child every summer. I remember marveling at their aesthetics watching them singing from telegraph wires along field edges and roadsides daily during summer holidays. Sadly these childhood memories are all too distant now as this species seems to be in free fall decline. The worrying personal statistic is that I have seen more Oriental Turtle Doves in the UK in past five years than I have European Turtle Doves!
This is not just a UK problem either. A Dutch friend of mine told me that last year was the first year he can remember failing to see a Turtle Dove in the Netherlands!
Turtle Doves are one of the fastest declining birds in Europe. We have lost 93% of the UK population between 1970 and 2011 and there has been an overall decline in Europe of 69% since 1980.
There is hope of course; we haven’t lost this species yet! The RSPB is working hard with its partners under the umbrella of the project Operation Turtle Dove. They are building on research into the Turtle Dove breeding grounds in England; establishing feeding habitat over core breeding range through advisory and farmer initiatives and researching into factors operating during migration and at wintering areas. So there is real hope!
Knowing that we needed to raise much needed funds for and awareness of Operation Turtle Dove my good friend Jonny Rankin hatched a fantastic plan! After a bit of discussion we came up with the project name DoveStep!
DoveStep is a 300 mile walk across the Turtle Doves historical core range; starting at the RSPB reserve Lakenheath in Suffolk and finishing in the superb Cleveland reserve RSPB Saltholme. I will be joining Arctic adventurers Jonny Rankin and Robert Yaxley for the full route of the walk. The walk leaves Lakenheath on March 29th and arriving into Saltholme RSPB on Thursday 10th April. You can find out more about this project here: http://dovestep.wordpress.com/
2014 is a significant year in relation to pigeons and learning conservation lessons. 2014 marks one hundred years since Martha the last Passenger Pigeon dies and that species became extinct! The Passenger Pigeon was once one of the most numerous birds on the planet; yet it was allowed to go extinct. The species demise is largely believed to have been caused by habitat loss and hunting; causes that mirror the decline of the European Turtle Dove.
It is my view that we should never forget Martha and we should learn from the mistakes that allowed her species to disappear permanently from this planet. We cannot allow the same fate to remove the Turtle Dove from the experiences of our children!
I decided that I needed to build onto the work of DoveStep and use the poignancy of Martha and the significance of 2014 to continue to raise funds for and awareness of Operation Turtle Dove.
My plan is to run no less than 1000 miles (including no less that fourteen marathons) during 2014. The project is called ‘1000 miles in memory of Martha’. You can read more details about this project here: http://www.theinkednaturalist.co.uk/1000-miles-memory-martha/
My first marathon will be a fairly grueling montane trail marathon; the Grizedale 26! It will take place on February 23rd (in just three weeks time). I need all the support an encouragement I can get for this one: so please do check out my facebook page and give it a ‘like’: https://www.facebook.com/pages/1000-miles-in-memory-of-Martha
- You can donate to the cause via my Just Giving page here: http://www.justgiving.com/1000milesinmemoryofMARTHA
- Alternatively you can donate with your mobile phone by sending a text to 70070 with the code DOVE75 followed by the amount you would like to donate (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5, or £10).
If donations exceed £1000 I will have a tattoo depicting the Passenger Pigeon & Turtle Dove tattooed onto my back (what, you didn’t expect there to be any ink involved…….:-) )