Twenty years ago this reviewer saw dozens of dusky seaside sparrows in the tidal marshes near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Now they are extinct. Using extensive documentation, including interviews, library research, and site visits, Walters sensitively tells how extinction occurred. His is a poignant, beautifully written book that reads like a good mystery, although we know the conclusion at the start. Manipulation of water levels by NASA, developers, mosquito controllers, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (for the benefit of ducks) did in the sparrow. Arrayed against these bureaucratic villains are the book's heroes, a handful of mostly young professional biologists who documented the sparrows' ecological needs and predicted what was going to happen to them every step of the way. Even the final pathetic attempts to breed them in captivity were flawed by bureaucratic inertia and carelessness climaxing in the suspicious disappearance of some of the birds and their related files from their Disney World breeding enclosure. A most engaging drama, told with balance, insight, and care. Highly recommended.-- Henry T. Armistead, Thomas Jefferson Univ. Lib., Philadelphia
Once native to the environs of Cape Canaveral, Florida, the dusky seaside sparrow was made extinct in only about 30 years. First came DDT to poison it. Then, for the building boom attendant on the U.S. race to the moon, its salt marsh habitats were drained. A road was built through the last big aggregation of the species. Ranchers started fires to make more grazing land for cattle, thereby killing more duskies. Charged by law to protect the bird, wildlife officials were more interested in creating habitats for hunters and in protecting their behinds during political infighting. Even bird-watching groups turned a blind eye, changing their field guides so that instead of being recognized as a distinct species and highly prized watchers' quarry, it was listed as a subspecies of no watching value. It wasn't a colorful bird that made spectacular swoops and dives, yet it was unique, and it lived in just one area of the world. Its story shows how callous humankind can be toward the world and all its living things.