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Long-extinct passenger pigeon finds a place in the family tree
Date:10/6/2010

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. With bits of DNA extracted from century-old museum specimens, researchers have found a place for the extinct passenger pigeon in the family tree of pigeons and doves, identifying for the first time this unique bird's closest living avian relatives.

The new analysis, which appears this month in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, reveals that the passenger pigeon was most closely related to other North and South American pigeons, and not to the mourning dove, as was once suspected.

Naturalists have long lamented that one of North America's most spectacular birds was also one of the first to be driven to extinction. In the early 1800s it was the most abundant bird species on the planet, even though its range was limited to the eastern and central forests of the United States and parts of eastern Canada. Flocks of passenger pigeons were so vast they darkened the sky; it could take days for a flock to pass overhead.

"It must have been unbelievable to see one of these flocks," said Kevin Johnson, an ornithologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois and lead author of the study. "There is nothing in modern times that we can compare it to. The passenger pigeon was very nomadic and it formed these huge flocks, in the millions, and breeding colonies in the millions."

Passenger pigeons followed their food, settling down in forests that periodically produced a superabundance of acorns and c
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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Long-extinct passenger pigeon finds a place in the family tree
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