Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Could be worse - Audubon's Bunting

The story of Darwin and his condor reminds me of the sadder, more ridiculous case of ornithologist James Kirk Townsend, author of Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains, who acquired a specimen (i.e., wrung the little neck) of the only known Audubon's Bunting, never described before Townsend caught it, never seen afterwards. It might have been a sport rather than a distinct species. But still. Is it a scientific honor to collect a unique specimen, or does everyone suspect that you killed the last one?

I guess if you really killed the last one the future of the species was not so bright, regardless.

In the Journey Townsend describes (and collects) Carolina parakeets and passenger pigeons not so far from where I am now. How nice it would be to see one. They didn't disappear until much later - Townsend isn't responsible for their extinction.

The picture is of a Bunting painted by Audubon. Not necessarily Audubon's Bunting.

1 comment:

  1. One can still go and see the last passenger pigeon shot in the wild, "Buttons" at the Ohio Historical Society. She was so named because the mother of the 14-year old who shot her inserted buttons for eyes during the taxidermy.

    "Martha" the last known passenger pigeon is at the Smithsonian, but she's not on display.

    The whole passenger pigeon story saddens me because it suggests how little we know about population dynamics. If you were predicting species extinctions, the most numerous, most widespread bird in the world would not be the one that one would put any effort into conserving, even if it were very tasty and easy to kill.