In the simplest words possible, extinction can be defined as the death of the last individual of a particular species with which comes to an end the hope of reviving its population. Over the last 100 years, several birds and animals have become extinct. In fact, the number of avian species that have been declared extinct over these 100 odd years has reached 17, while several species haven't been seen for several years now.
Birds Extinct in the Last 100 Years
Some may say it's just 17 out of hundreds of species inhabiting the planet, but one has to understand that it is a huge loss considering that these birds had a crucial role to play in various ecosystems and now they have disappeared from the planet with no hope of revival. The factors responsible for this huge biological loss include loss of habitat, hunting, climate change, etc. Discussed below are the details of each of these birds which we have lost over the course of time, with special emphasis on their extinction.
A subspecies of ostrich native to the Arabian Peninsula, the Arabian ostrich became extinct around mid-20th century. Its extinction was triggered by the introduction of firearms, which made hunting easier. The Arabian ostrich population declined drastically during the first half the 20th century. In 1966, the bird was last seen in Petra, Jordan, which was the last sighting of the species.
The Atitlan grebe was a water bird native to the Lago de Atitlán in Guatemala. The introduction of bass fish in Lake Atitlan in the mid-20th century depleted the number of crabs and other small fish which inhabited the lake, thus depriving the Atitlan grebes of their primary food source. The last blow for the species came in the form of habitat loss in 1976, when an earthquake fractured the lake bed and drained all the water from it. The bird was last seen in 1989.
The extinction of Bushwren, a small bird native to New Zealand, was triggered by the introduction of mustelids, a predatory mammal, in this region. Bushwren was typically characterized by its trait to nest on or near the ground, which made it an easy prey for mustelids and feral cats. The bird had become rare by the beginning of the 20th century itself. It was last seen on Kaimohu Island, where it was shifted as a last attempt to revive the declining population, in 1972.
Canary Islands Oystercatcher
The Canary Islands Oystercatcher, also known as the Canarian Black Oystercatcher, was native to the Canary Island in Spain. Human encroachment in its natural habitat and the havoc caused by predatory rats triggered its extinction in the beginning of the 20th century. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the bird was last seen in late 1940s in this region. It was finally declared extinct in 1994 after several attempts to find it produced no results.
The only species of parrot native to the eastern parts of the United States, the Carolina parakeet became extinct in early 20th century. Large-scale deforestation near Gulf of Mexico and Ohio Valley for agricultural purpose resulted in extensive loss of habitat for this bird species. In the years to follow, they were hunted extensively for their colorful feathers, which were used for decoration, and exterminated by farmers, who considered them pests. All these factors together led to the extinction of Carolina parakeet. The last sighting of the species in the wild came in 1904, while the last bird in captivity died in 1918.
An aquatic bird endemic to the Bogota wetlands in Colombia, the Colombian grebe was driven to extinction due to loss of habitat and excessive predation in the second half of the 20th century. Heavy siltation of the Bogota wetlands, which these birds inhabited, and excessive reed harvest in this region resulted in loss of habitat for this species. Large-scale predation by Rainbow trouts and hunting by humans reduced the population of Colombian grebe to less than a hundred individuals by 1970. The last reported sighting of this bird came in 1977, after which it was added to the list of extinct birds.
Grand Cayman Thrush
The beauty of the Grand Cayman Thrush, native to the Cayman Islands, proved to be a curse for this bird, as it became a prime target for bird collectors in the first half of the 20th century. Large-scale destruction of habitat added to its woes by reducing their habitat and making them easy targets. The Grand Cayman Thrush had become quite rare by the beginning of 1930s. Over the next few years, the bird was virtually driven to extinction, with the last sighting coming in 1938.
The tragic tale of Hawai'i 'O'o, native to the island of Hawaii, was similar to that of the Grand Cayman Thrush. The beautiful plumage of this bird made it a prime target for hunters, who killed these birds extensively to collect their feathers which were eventually used for decoration. The Hawai'i 'O'o also became a popular song bird. Though the bird was not able to survive in captivity for a long time, people continued to collect them. Finally, the introduction of musket made hunting easier, which played a crucial role in the extinction of the Hawai'i 'O'o. The last individual was seen in 1934.
A subspecies of the Greater Prairie-Chicken endemic to the heathland barrens of coastal New England, the Heath hen was driven to extinction by large-scale hunting for food. Their number had declined extensively by the mid-19th century, however, they managed to survive human onslaught for a few more years before succumbing to it. The Heath hen had become rare by the beginning of the 20th century. The number declined rapidly in the next few years as a result of the blackhead disease. The last sighting of this species was reported in 1932.
The Kaua'i 'O'o, was a small honey eater endemic to the Kauaʻi island in Hawaii. The extinction of Kaua'i 'O'o began in the 20th century with the introduction of black rats and domestic pigs, which served as carriers of various avian diseases. The Kaua'i 'O'o was last sighted in 1987 and after several attempts to revive their population failed, they were finally declared extinct.
The Laysan crake, a.k.a. the Laysan rail, was a small bird found on the Laysan Island in Hawaii. The major factor responsible for the extinction of this species was loss of habitat, which was triggered by the introduction of rabbits in this area. With no predators, rabbits multiplied rapidly and fed on the vegetation which triggered a domino effect on this bird. Another prominent reason for the extinction of the Laysan crake was colonization of the island by rats. Slowly and steadily both these factors resulted in loss of habitat for the bird, which was finally driven to extinction by 1944.
New Zealand Thrush
The New Zealand Thrush, also known as the South Island Piopio, was one of the most common birds in New Zealand at one point of time. This bird species was subjected to large-scale predation by cats and rats introduced to the island along with human settlement. Human encroachment also led to loss of habitat for the species and by the end of 19th century the most common bird became the rarest bird in the country. Occasional sightings were reported from various parts for several years to come. The last time the bird was seen was in 1963, after which it was declared extinct.
A colorful parrot species native to the northeastern region of Australia, the Paradise parrot was added to the extinct list after it was wiped off the planet due to the loss of habitat as a result of human activities, hunting by bird collectors, and predation by wild cats. The last sighting of this species came in 1927 and eventually it was declared extinct.
The Passenger pigeon was one of the most common birds in the continent of North America at one point of time, however, large-scale hunting for food led to its extinction by the beginning of the 20th century. The migratory species, which were found in large flocks, became an important source of food for the native Indians and European settlers. The bird became quite rare by the end of 19th century and finally became extinct in the first decade of the 20th century. The last reported sighting of the Passenger pigeon came in 1912.
A subspecies of the pigeon native to the Okinawa archipelago in Japan, the Ryukyu wood-pigeon was driven to extinction as a result of habitat destruction. Human encroachment in the tropical forests of this archipelago destroyed the forest which was home to this bird. The resultant depletion finally resulted in extinction of the species by 1930s. The last reported sighting of the bird came in 1936, after which it was added to the list of extinct species.
Wake Island Rail
The Wake Island Rail was a flightless bird endemic to the Wake Island in the Pacific Ocean from which it derives its name. The bird was found in abundance on this island prior to the World War II, however, the Japanese forces which occupied the island during this war hunted these birds and drove them to extinction. It was not at all a difficult task for the Japanese soldiers to hunt these flightless birds, which were found in abundance back then. Owing to this large-scale killing, the Wake Island Rail population began declining rapidly and finally the bird became extinct in 1945.
The White-faced owl, also referred to as the Laughing owl, was an owl species native to New Zealand. The main reasons which led to extinction of this owl were loss of habitat and collection of the species as research specimen. The population of this species had declined considerably by the end of the 19th century. Occasional unconfirmed sightings were reported once in while―the last of which came in 1914―after which the bird was declared extinct.
Other than these birds, several other animals have succumbed to excessive hunting, loss of habitat, and large-scale predation. The list of animals we lost over the last century is quite lengthy, with prominent names, like the Barbary lion and Western Black Rhino, to its credit. Lengthier is list of endangered animals which are on the verge of extinction. If proper conservation measures are not initiated at the earliest, these animals will soon become extinct and their loss will be a huge loss for the Earth's biodiversity.