Heath Hen Debate Contains Vineyard DNA

Bringing back an extinct species raises a whirlwind of questions — technical, ethical and financial. Would it be possible? Should it be done?

Historic Film Shows Heath Hens Alive and Dancing on Vineyard

The last heath hen disappeared from Martha's Vineyard in 1932 and the species declared extinct in 1933.

Once Flourishing Heath Hen Made Its Last Stand on Island

The heath hen’s story of decline and extinction has become inextricably linked to Martha’s Vineyard.

Heath Hen Raises Bar on De-Extinction Debate

The heath hen is at the center of a new effort and a new debate on the Island, as scientific advances have made de-extinction a possibility.

Never Say Never; Heath Hen May Get Its Boom Back

The heath hen is currently being proposed as a possibility for de-extinction by an organization that aims to coordinate projects that use genetics to rescue endangered and extinct species.

New Research: Island's Extinct Heath Hen Was a Unique Bird

Now a genetic study of the skins of scores of heath hens, all of them from the Vineyard, shows that the Island bird, although it looked and behaved much like its supposed parent species in the Midwest, was a wholly distinctive creature. Genetically it was more different from the greater western prairie chicken - that supposed parent species - than the Midwestern bird is from any other family member in its genus, which includes the lesser prairie chicken, the endangered Attwater's prairie chicken of eastern Texas, and even the sharp-tailed grouse. It is possible that instead of being a subspecies of the prairie chicken - which scientists have considered it to be since it was first typed in the last years of the nineteenth century - the heath hen might have been a species unto itself.

Gazette Chronicle: The Last Heath Hen

The Last Heath Hen

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of March, 1933:

The Ballad Of Boomin’ Ben

Note: The  Heath Hen, once a plentiful bird throughout New England, was last seen by James Green in West Tisbury on March 11, 1932.

The Ballad Of Boomin’ Ben

(The Tragic Tale of the Last Heath Hen)

I looked for my lady,

hoped she was near

playing “hard-to-get” games

in the Spring of that year.

I searched and I searched 

under brush, by the sea;

Booming Ben the Heath Hen Visits Camp

How do you get kids to care about a bird that no longer flies to the treetops, nor whistles to greet the day? Appeal to their senses and their incomparable imaginative faculties, says Todd McGrain, artist, arts educator and activist.

Mr. McGrain did just that last week, during his visit to Sense of Wonder Creations summer camp, when he asked children to touch a reproduction heath hen, listen to its call and imagine what it must have looked like.