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Re: The Birds



There was an interesting article in the Atlantic Monthly last year, titled
"1491". It tried to sum up the current state of scholarship (and debate)
regarding the aboriginal population of the Americas prior to the european
invasion. One of the more mind-boggling hypotheses mentioned was that the
massive flocks of passenger pigeons that everyone wrote of during the 18th
and 19th centuries were the result, not of a "pristine wilderness", but of a
profound ecological imbalance caused by the near extermination of the apex
predator, aboriginal man. The reasoning went that the amerindian populations
had maintained large portions of the east and midwest as prairie and
scrubland, through burning and other methods. Whether through disease or
other methods, the indians were removed from the land in a wide front
beginning several hundred miles in front of the "settlers" (one of the
theories being diseases vectored by feral pigs, which would spread faster
than european habitation.) With no people to keep the land open, large areas
became forested, soon becoming apex forest with unusually large densities of
nut trees, precisely what passenger pigeons needed to eat. With relatively
few predators (predators being among the first things that the europeans
trapped or just killed) the pigeon populations boomed until they were
exterminated by market-gunners. Since I'm unaware of any species that herd
or flock in such huge populations during the entire year (maybe caribou,
maybe wildebeest) as passenger pigeons were described as doing, it
definitely strikes me as being such an unusual habit that the imbalance
theory sounds plausible--more like a seasonal upswing in the mouse
population of the southwest following a rich year for pinon trees....
Nick J.
P.S. Our local crow population seems to have remained stable in the
main(Rhode Island, USA), although the family of local crows my wife and I
have been feeding has seemingly been replaced by another family that hasn't
yet learned the sophisticated ways of cache-ing and eating peanuts which the
(I assume) previous family had both mastered and taught to a second
generation. I assume there is a great deal of fluidity in crow
territoriality nowadays.