From Billions to None
tells the compelling, little-known story of the rapid extinction of the once abundant passenger pigeon, and explores its lessons for today with the alarming decline of many species worldwide.
These sleek and beautiful birds darkened entire skies, like nothing in existence today. Yet in a matter of decades human activity drove the species from billions to extinction.
For millennia, the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America, and likely the world. Then as its forest habitats were cut down for lumber, it was hunted to extinction both as a cheap source of protein and as targets for sport shooting. By 1912, after a nationwide search, not a single bird could be found living in the wild. The last pigeon in captivity died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.
Naturalist and author Joel Greenberg is the film’s guide, explaining the biology of the passenger pigeon and taking us through the birds’ tragic history. In one scene, Greenberg visits a nature preserve in Wisconsin that was once the largest ever passenger pigeon nesting site, where an estimated 136 million birds nested in an area equal in size to 37 Manhattan Islands.
Through computer animation, the film recreates the breathtaking natural phenomenon of massive flocks of passenger pigeons. One animated sequence recreates a passenger pigeon flock estimated by John James Audubon to be at least one billion birds. In 1813, while in Kentucky, Audubon wrote, “The light of the noonday was obscured as by an eclipse. The pigeons passed in undiminished number, and continued to do so for three days.”
The film briefly explores the De-Extinction movement, a controversial attempt to bring back extinct species, and features an interview with the young scientist who has been tasked to bring back the lost bird.
The film also highlights scientists like Dr. Boris Worm at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, whose research is raising alarm about other species, including sharks. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are currently threatened with extinction due to overfishing.
“We’re doing the same thing to our children and our grandchildren that our ancestors did to us,” concludes David Blockstein, Senior Scientist at the National Council for Science and the Environment, “But we don’t have the same excuse of ignorance.”
is a naturalist and author of several books, including A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction
(Bloomsbury, 2014). He is a research associate at the Field Museum and the Chicago Academy of Sciences Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
SPECIAL FEATURES ON DVD
• Behind the Scenes: A Bird’s Eye View, The Sound of Billions, Making “Pigeon Pie”
• Deleted Scene: Warren Woods
• Extras: A Special Specimen, From Chikagou to Chicago, Prairie Tours with Joel
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