Today our 2013 Birdorable Bonanza concludes as we reveal our 500th species: the Passenger Pigeon.
You probably know that the Passenger Pigeon is extinct. But did you know that there used to be up to 5 billion Passenger Pigeons living in North America, making it possibly the most abundant bird species on earth? Flocks, so thick with pigeons that they would darken the sky, would take hours to pass by. How did we lose this species? How did we go from billions to none?
Passenger Pigeon nest display at Chicago's Field Museum (photo by blogger)
The answer is complicated, but two major factors contributed to the demise of the Passenger Pigeon. First, habitat loss was devastating. The birds used huge swathes of woodland to nest and feed, and their preferred trees were taken in huge numbers for both logging and human development. Hunting to satisfy a taste for pigeon was the other major factor. The development of commercial train routes and explosive (human) population growth in eastern North America resulted in a huge trade of pigeon meat. Passenger Pigeons were slaughtered on a mass scale in the Midwest and then transported by rail to cities like New York and Boston for food. This brief account is an extremely simplified version of the complicated story of the loss of the Passenger Pigeon. Project Passenger Pigeon aims to educate people about the Passenger Pigeon and about extinction. 2014 is the 100 year anniversary of the death of Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon. Please visit Project Passenger Pigeon on the web to learn more.
This concludes our huge 2013 Birdorable Bonanza! We now offer a whopping 500 different cute cartoon birds, each available on a wide range of products. Thanks for following along!
It looks like yesterday's bird, the Least Bittern, totally got photobombed by a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail! How often does that happen? Our 499th Birdorable species and second-to-last 2013 Bonanza bird is the Rufous-necked Wood Rail!
Rufous-necked Wood-Rails are usually found in coastal habitats in parts of Central and South America. However, one day earlier this month, birder Matt Daw had an interesting experience while making a video of a Least Bittern at a National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Have a look at the photobombing wood-rail that sent the birding world into a frenzy:
Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Bosque del Apache NWR by Matt Daw
Tomorrow our 2013 Bonanza will conclude with Birdorable species #500. This once-abundant species will have an important but sad anniversary next year. Join us tomorrow as we reveal our 500th cute Birdorable cartoon bird!
We’re adding new birds each day until we reach our 500th Birdorable species! Today’s Bonanza bird is species #498 overall: the Least Bittern.
Least Bitterns are very small herons found in freshwater or brackish wetland-type habitats in the Americas. They are the smallest species of heron found within their range.
Least Bittern by Maureen Leong-Kee (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Least Bitterns are usually found in reed beds, sometimes over rather deep water. They can hunt for small prey like fish, frogs, and insects in water that is too deep for wading birds to enter. They perch on or straddle reeds and look down for prey. If they see something tasty, they stab into the water with their long, pointed beaks.
Tune in tomorrow to see #499! Wednesday we will reveal our 500th Birdorable!
We're adding new birds each day until we reach our 500th Birdorable species! Today's Bonanza bird is the Hawfinch.
Look at that massive bill! Hawfinches are bulky birds, with large heads and stout bodies. Their large finch beaks have a metallic look to them. Hawfinches feed on hard seeds, including cherry pits and olive pits.
Hawfinch by Francesco Veronesi (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Hawfinches are social, often feeding in groups -- especially in the winter. They tend to be shy around people, but will visit feeding stations that offer seeds.
Tomorrow we'll add a somewhat elusive species of heron found in the Americas. It's a small one!
African Fish-Eagles are large birds of prey that live in sub-Saharan parts of Africa. They eat a lot of fish (hence the name), but they will also steal prey from other birds or take a variety of other prey items including small turtles, other birds, or even monkeys.
African Fish-Eagle by Jason Wharam (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The African Fish-Eagle has a stable wild population in its rather large natural range. It is the national bird of three African nations: Zimbabwe, South Sudan, and Zambia.
Tomorrow we'll add a stocky finch species with a very, very big beak. This bird is found across parts of Europe and Asia.
There are just a few more days to go in our Bonanza! On Wednesday we will reveal our 500th bird, but today we introduce #26 in the Bonanza and #495 overall - the European Bee-eater.
The European Bee-eater is an extremely colorful species of bird that breeds across much of Europe. These striking feathered jewels are migratory and most spend the winter across the southern half of Africa. There are 26 species of bee-eater in the world. This family is appropriately named - they are known to eat a lot of bees!
European Bee-eater by Sandra (CC BY 2.0)
Bees have stingers and venom, so how do bee-eaters safely consume them? After a bee (or wasp or other stinging insect) is captured, the bird beats the insect on a hard surface. This act both removes the stinger and extracts most of the venom. Once this is complete, the insect is consumed. European Bee-eaters eat other insect too, but only flying ones. Prey is always captured on the wing -- perched insects are simply ignored!
Tomorrow's new species is a bird of prey from Africa that, like today's bee-eater, is named in part for what it likes to eat.