October 12, 2007

The Ivory Billed Woodpecker

I've been reading 'The Grail Bird', a fascinating account of the crazy way in which against all odds, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was discovered to still exist, after being declared extinct for 50 years. It's a story that's very hopeful and very depressing. Hopeful, because somehow it shows that Nature might triumph over mankind's stupidity. Depressing because it shows how sad our destiny seems... especially in this the age of Global Warming & eventual doom.

I don't think there's ever been a time in history when each person has been made to feel so guilty about just existing. Every time we toss out a styrofoam coffee cup or wash out a paintbrush, or leave a light on in an empty room we now feel like we're putting the planet in peril. I think the description of the 21st Century as the 'catastrophe prone century' seems all too accurate.

Yet the Ivory Billed Woodpecker has defied all the odds and survived... a stunning triumph of Nature over man. They have proved all the experts wrong and defied science to even figure out how their magic trick was accomplished.

The Ivory Billed Woodpecker has got to be one of the coolest looking birds ever. That amazing crest, the huge beak, the bold colors and stripes. How many millions of years did it take to evolve? But it took less than 100 years of greed to wipe them out.

When one reads about the primeval abundance of wildlife that so recently existed in parts of America, it's sad to think how much we've lost. As recently as 1930, there were deep woodlands of the South that were like a primal Eden. Untouched forests of old growth mangrove rang with the calls of thousands of birds... panthers, wolves and bears roamed free.

Today in the exact same place a featureless soybean field stretches to the horizon... without a tree in sight... soaked with chemical fertilizer. No bird sings. It's hard to put a price tag on Nature. But corporations, which run the world these days certainly have no inclination to do so. It seems each new generation of people simply accepts what reduced abundance is left over to them... without questioning. They never knew anything more.

It's hopeful to think this amazing bird might still eke out a chance. It seems impossible though to ever capture one or breed it in captivity, the way they've done with the Condor and Whooping Crane. We have to save the forest instead. Maybe there are 25 Ivory Bills still alive... no one knows. They're called the 'Good Lord! Bird' because that's supposedly what people used to say whenever they'd see one.

And I think that people really do need to still see one every now & then.


Sam said...

When I was about 8 years old, my mother called me to come Quick to the window. I looked out, and in our sick and dying elm tree (this was back in the 60's and there were still a few left. *sigh*) was this enormous bird. In my child's memory, it was huge and prehistoric looking. It had a pale beak, a huge head, and was strikingly marked in black and white. It hopped up and down the tree, then spread its wings and flew away - amazingly graceful and quick for a bird its size.
My mother let out her breath and said, "That was an Ivory Billed Woodpecker. I don't think we'll ever see another one." And she burst into tears.
I think her tears are what sealed that memeory into my mind. I can still see that woodpecker sailing slowly through the trees - just outside our window - not twenty feet away from me.
And I've never seen another one.

John Nez said...

Wow... that's amazing!

I remember the time we had 'ball lightning' in the alleyway. That's a freak form of lighting that forms into a sphere and hangs in the air for a second or so... very rare.

But I never saw an ivory bill.

calderwoodbooks said...

Well, I never saw ball lightning - or will O wisps, or swamp lights.
Maybe some day!


Wade Brandis said...

Like the abundant forests that you described, South Dakota was also once home to a natural habitat up until the late 1800s. Most of the land here was tall prairie grass which could be seen for miles, and wild buffalo roamed amongst the Native American tribes. After the settlers came though, the grass disappeared, with farmland taking up the eastern half of the state, and cattle ranches out in the western half.

The buffalo was almost hunted to extinction, but they survive today thanks to Custer State Park and private buffalo ranches. The college that I go to (Sinte Gleska University) also has a buffalo ranch.

But, still, one must wonder how the Ivory Billed Woodpecker survived without ending up in captivity like the buffalo.