While we desperately scrape tissue samples from dead passenger pigeons in the hopes of returning these birds to our skies, we engage in a (seemingly futile) quest to expunge the rock pigeons from our midst by any means necessary: plastic owls, sticky gel, nets, electric shock wires, poison and even bullets. Rather than admiring the humble rock pigeon for faring so well in harsh conditions, we scorn it as a "rat with wings." This is history repeating itself, for just as rock pigeons are seen by many today as the scourge of cities, so were passenger pigeons seen a century ago as the scourge of the country. They laid waste to farmers' crops and to the forests where they nested, and so were persecuted with a blood-thirsty zeal by men who shot them out of the sky in bunches and ripped their heads off as they sat on eggs. It was only once we had eradicated the passenger pigeon that we developed a fondness for it.
While de-extinction may in some ways be a noble effort, it appears to be driven at least in part by a naïve nostalgia. We live in an era that a growing number of scientists refer to as the Anthropocene, meaning that humans have become a driving geologic force of nature. Like ostriches sticking their heads in the dirt, our cultural reflex has been to pine for a return to the halcyon days when our species did not have dominion over every living creature. This may explain why we fervently attempt to repatriate fragile species that were lost to urban development while simultaneously ignoring or seeking to evict the pedestrian species that thrive in human-altered landscapes. The passenger pigeon offers the tantalizing prospect of bringing back an element of the "wild"-- one of contemporary society's rarest of all commodities; whereas rock pigeons force us to own up to our role in bringing about what environmentalist Bill McKibben calls the "end of nature." In eating from our hands, scavenging our garbage, and pacing our sidewalks, rock pigeons subvert our romantic conceptions of what is "wild" or "natural." But it is worth asking: even if we manage to realize our science fiction fantasy, what would stop passenger pigeon 2.0 from following in the rock pigeon's footsteps?