978-0-19-850837-3 / 0198508379

Extinct Birds

by Fuller, Errol

Publisher:Cornell University Press, Ithaca



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About the book:

Ornithologists estimate that there have been some 150,000 avian species since birds first appeared millions of years ago. Errol Fuller points out in Extinct Birds that if that figure, based on incomplete evidence, is correct, then nearly 94 percent of those species have gone extinct over time.

Most have done so through more or less natural causes--through disease, say, or widespread climatic change. In historic times, though, many species have been hastened to extinction through human actions, inadvertent or deliberate. In the case of the Hawaiian rail, Fuller writes in this catalogue of birds that have disappeared since 1600, the introduction of alien species such as the mongoose, domestic cat and rat is likely to blame. Rats, too, killed off the Lord Howe Island white-eye when a ship accidentally grounded there in 1918. The Carolina parakeet disappeared a few years later, owing, perhaps, to the destruction of its forest habitat and its beautiful plumage, highly prized by hunters. Mosquitoes carried on other ships felled many other island species. And so on. Curiously, Fuller writes, the usual-suspect agents of extinction-hunting or egg collecting for example--have had a smaller effect on vulnerable bird species than have changes in the environment wrought by humans and their "accompanying menagerie".

Fuller's book makes for a sobering obituary, and one of particular interest to environmentalists engaged in habitat preservation and restoration. --Gregory McNamee

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