Learning about extinct birds through Todd McGrain’s Lost Bird Project, plus more resources to keep learning at home.
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Learning About Extinct Birds
A collection of sculptures of five extinct birds was recently installed on Stanford campus. I love taking advantage of exhibits like this at local colleges, and I brought my bird-loving ten-year-old on a tour of them.
Originally placed where these birds were last seen, they now live at Stanford permanently. That’s very lucky for us! You can visit Stanford’s Lost Bird Project page to learn more.
Our little sculpture tour led to learning more about endangered and extinct species, and I’ve shared a couple resources we discovered at the end of this post.
But first, here are the sculptures! My descriptions are based off of those from Stanford’s Lost Bird Project page, with a little extra internet information occasionally added in.
The last passenger pigeon died in captivity on September 1, 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo. The last wild bird of this type had been killed by a boy in Ohio on March 24th, 1900.
It’s hard to believe but these birds once made up 20%-40% of all birds in North America. They traveled in massive flocks, sometimes filling the sky so thoroughly that you couldn’t see the sun for hours.
Hunted for their meat, humans drove them to extinction.
The last labrador duck was shot December 12, 1878 in Elmira, New York. Normally a coast dwelling bird, a storm blew it inland.
We don’t really know why these birds went extinct; probably it was due to habitat loss and not having enough food.
This heartbreaking sculpture shows the last heath then, Booming Ben, calling out for other heath hens. In vain; he was the only one left, and last seen on March 11, 1932.
Carolina parakeets were killed off by farmers. Farms had taken over the parakeets’ land, and the parakeets were eating the farmers’ crops. Whenever one bird was shot, several others would fly to its side – getting killedI ha also as they tried to care for a member of their flock. The last Carolina parakeet died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.
The Great Auk
Anna was especially interested in the great auk since we had just finished reading Enid Blyton’s The Island of Adventure, which features a child trying to find a great auk. The book is set in the early 1900s, but the great auk was already long extinct. Hunted for its meat, eggs, oil, and feathers, this bird’s population was already declining in the 1500s. The last known pair was killed on Eldey Island on June 3, 1844. Look at the sculpture’s tiny wings and you can tell this was a flightless bird, much more comfortable in water than on land.
Books to Read As You Learn About Extinct Birds
Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds
Christopher Cokinos’ Hope Is the Thing with Feathers features all five of the birds from the Lost Birds project. It also features a sixth bird, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which – it turns out – may actually not be extinct!
The Magnificent Book of Extinct Animals
Written by Barbara Taylor and illustrated by Walerczuk Val, The Magnificent Book of Extinct Animals features facts and illustrations about 36 animals lost to extinction, including the great auk, passenger pigeon, and Carolina parakeet.
The Lost Bird Project
Written by the creator of the sculptures we toured, The Lost Bird Project chronicles this artistic project.
This collection of bird books for kids is also a great resource if you want to extend bird themed learning.
More Resources for Learning About Extinct Birds
Wikipedia has a list of extinct bird species since 1500.
This video features all of the birds from the Lost Bird project except the Great Auk:
Finally, let’s end this post with some good news in this video, which features birds that came back from extinction.
You can also celebrate birds with this bird themed hairdo!
Have you seen The Lost Bird project statues? What did you think? Do you have any other resources on extinct birds that we should learn with?
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MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.
3 thoughts on “Learning About Extinct Birds with the Lost Birds Project”
How interesting and also heart breaking to read about these beautiful creatures that we lost… and how many more we are in the process of losing :(
I think I would cry going to that exhibit. Just reading the story of the last heath hen made me want to cry.
But that is a very cool sounding exhibit.
The heath hen and Carolina parakeet stories (how they would fly to the bird who was shot and then get killed) both really got to me. It’s an amazing exhibit; the sculptures are beautiful. I love that a talented artist can make something that feels as weightless as a bird out of bronze.