Recently, the federal government of the United States relaxed land-use restrictions designed protecting the greater sage-grouse, hoping the change might spur economic development via increased oil and gas excavation and expansion of cattle grazing areas. The grouse, a strange chicken-sized bird known for its flamboyant displays of plumage and bizarre, warbling vocalizations, once made its home on the great western prairies of the United States and numbered in the millions. Where settlers once encountered birds blanketing the landscape, today a mere five-hundred thousand remain.
A similar bird once inhabited the more eastern portions of the United States. The heath hen, a sub-species of grouse, exhibiting a similar appearance and familiar behaviors, extended along the coast as far North as Massachusetts, South to Virginia, and East to Pennsylvania. In New York, an environment of scrub oak and pine trees made Long Island an attractive home for the hens. Their habitat stretched from the pine barrens of Suffolk County west to the Hempstead Plains. (John Bull in his Birds of New York State notes that they may have also appeared in the scrub and sand plains west of Albany). As in other locations, it is generally assumed that here, a combination of hunting and habitat change led to the hens extinction. Still, it is only an educated assumption – the the Long Island heath hen and the causes for its extinction have gone largely unexplored. [Read more…] about The Extinction of the Long Island Heath Hen