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Recent Extinctions

Many bird species have become extinct in the past, far more than currently exist. This however has taken millions of years and we have good reasons to believe that for life on earth all together, on average the number of species going extinct has been less than the number of species coming into existence, however the fossil record suggests that in the past birds have been at times more numerous in species than they are now (for a definition of species see classification).

Recently however mankind has had a dramatic affect on the rate and nature of extinctions occurring. Through habitat destruction, the introduction of non-native species and deliberate hunting we have brought many species to extinction long before they would have become extinct had we not evolved the technology which has made this possible. In the last 280 years, at least 42 species and 44 subspecies of birds are known to have become extinct and many others have not been observed for a significant period of time. Subspecies are important because they are the root stock from which species evolve. They are quite probably the species of the future. Many of these species have been island endemics with small ranges and small populations. North America has seen 2 bird species and 3 subspecies go extinct in the last 200 years whereas Hawaii has lost 9 species and 7 subspecies in the same time.

There is little we can do about those species which are already gone but by practising a philosophy of personal awareness combined with an abhorrence for the manifestations of greed and ignorance we can perhaps play a part in slowing down the destruction of this precious diversity of beauty and life. There are number of books which detail what is known of those species which are extinct or in danger of becoming so and it would be futile to attempt to reproduce these excellent efforts here. Instead a few examples are given which highlight the major problems facing both birds and those people who are fighting to save them and to supply a reasonable complete list of birds that have become extinct in the last 400 years.

Extinction may be forever at present, but modern biologists are doing their best to unravel the mysteries of DNA coding and cloning. It is not impossible that extinct species may one day be able to be brought back into the world. Nevertheless until that time, extinction still represents a loss of both species and their genetic material.

Most information on this page was contributed by EarthLife. 

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Last updated: 01 January 2003