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Extinction

For some species, the conservation laws that protect wild bird populations came too late. Habitat loss and overhunting for food or feathers resulted in the extinction of these birds that were once native to New York. Their loss reminds us that humans are capable of exterminating even widespread and abundant species.

The New York State Museum ornithology collection includes specimens of several North American species and subspecies that have become extinct in the last 150 years.

Extinct Labrador Ducks, mounted

These are the NYSM’s specimens of the extinct (since 1878) Labrador Duck, Camptorhynchus labradorius (left, female NYSM 9408; right, male NYSM 9407). There are only 25 specimens of this species in all American museums combined.


Recovery

Widespread agricultural use of the pesticide DDT in the mid-20th century caused raptors and fish-eating species at the top of the food chain to produce eggs with very thin eggshells that broke when the parents tried to incubate them. The banning of DDT in 1972, along with first-of-their-kind restoration efforts by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the 1970s and 1980s, enabled these species to make a comeback from the brink of extinction. 

Bald Eagle in Nest with Young

Bald Eagle in nest with young.


Timeline: Extinction Events & Conservation Efforts

1791

In one of the first efforts to save a species from extinction, a bill entitled “An Act for the preservation of heath-hen and other game” is introduced in the New York State Legislature.

Mid-19th Century

  • Carolina Parakeets are gone from New York. 
  • Commercial market for Passenger Pigeons booms; adults and squabs harvested by the millions.

1878

Last known sighting of Labrador Duck occurs, in Elmira, New York.

1890s

Unregulated hunting for feathers to supply the Victorian fashion industry causes widespread declines of wild bird populations. 

1900

Last remaining wild Passenger Pigeon is shot in Ohio. 

1903

President Theodore Roosevelt issues executive order establishing Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida as the first federal migratory bird refuge.

1905

The National Audubon Society is incorporated.

1914

“Martha,” the last Passenger Pigeon, dies in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

1918

Migratory Bird Treaty Act passes, protecting all non-game bird species in the United States. 

1921

Carolina Parakeet becomes extinct.

1932

  • Nearly 100 years after it disappeared from New York, the Heath Hen goes extinct when “Booming Ben,” the last of his species, dies on Martha’s Vineyard.
  • The last Eskimo Curlew is seen in New York.

1940s-50s

Widespread use of DDT causes eggshell thinning in raptors and fish-eating birds. Populations of Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and Osprey plummet across the country, and these species become rare in New York.

1961

Peregrine Falcons no longer breed in New York.

1962

  • Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is passed. 
  • Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is published, highlighting the decline of wild bird populations and the overuse of pesticides. 

1963

The last confirmed sighting of an Eskimo Curlew occurs in Barbados.

1967-1968

Scientists studying egg specimens from NYSM and other museums link DDT and eggshell thinning in raptors. 

1970

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is formed.

1971

New York State bans the agricultural pesticide DDT.

1972

The federal government passes the Clean Water Act and bans DDT in all states.

1973

  • Passage of the federal Endangered Species Act.
  • Tom Cade (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) initiates the Peregrine Falcon Restoration Program.

1975

Scientists release 16 captive-bred Peregrine Falcons at sites across the eastern U.S. Six survive the year and return to their release sites to breed.

hacktower2.jpg

Hack Tower

Bald Eagle nestlings, translocated from Alaska, are hoisted to the artificial nest atop a “hacking tower” in Albany County.

1976

Only one pair of Bald Eagles remains in New York State. Peter Nye and Mike Allen (NYSDEC) launch the Bald Eagle Restoration Program.

1983

Peregrine Falcons nest in New York State for the first time in more than 20 years, on two bridges near New York City.

1985

Peregrine Falcons return to breeding sites in the Adirondacks.

1999

Peregrine Falcon removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list.

2007

Bald Eagles removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list. 

2019

Populations of Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and Osprey continue to grow. These species, once rare or extirpated from New York, breed throughout the state.

 
Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis)
Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis)