My Brush with Extinction

There are times when things seem to line up to make a point or make a connection. This has been one of those for me.

A few weeks ago I published a link to a movie called “The Lost Birds Project”. It dealt with an artist who was setting up five statues to commemorate five species of birds that had gone extinct in the recent past. The tag line of the movie, forgetting is another form of extinction, resonated with me. I found the movie very well done, and very touching. It was enough that I went out and bought the book from which the movie was inspired, “Hope is a Thing With Feathers”.

hope

I’ve been reading it, and it has been fascinating. Well written, evocative, and driving home some of the reasons I work in sustainable design and construction. I’ve only read two chapters, one on the blazing green Carolina Parakeet, and the other on the Ivory Billed Woodpecker.   Both were hunted down and exterminated in this century, for reasons related to economics, food, fashion, and major development. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is apparently a unique creature, having been thought to be extinct in the 40’s.The Ivory Billed was sometimes known as the Lord God bird, because the reaction of people seeing it for the first time was “Lord, God, what a bird!”

ivory-billed-woodpecker

image from factzoo.com

And I’ve seen one.

Well, not really, but almost. A couple of months ago, before my plantar fasciitis sidelined me, I was out walking near my apartment when I saw a bird that caused me to almost walk into traffic. I’m not an expert ornithologist, but I have watched birds for a long time, and know the difference between flickers and woodpeckers. And I knew that this bird was unique. It was huge. It was in the raven and crow sized category, noticeably larger than any woodpecker or flicker I’d seen . It did not do me the favor of staying put very long, or letting me watch it more than the flight across the road and into the trees. But the large body, red crown, black and white head….I rushed home to research what it could be (yes, I have Petersons in the apartment). It was a Pileated Woodpecker, the first I had ever seen (and I grew up in the South). I’ve seen him once since then, while driving down the road catching the glimpse of him in that same tree.  A bird that big stands out, even when driving along a residential street.

pileated-woodpecker_660_600x450

image from National Geographic

It turns out the Pileated is a relative of the Ivory Billed.   He just happens to be less discriminating in his taste in trees compared to the Lord God bird.  In fact, many people mistake the two of them.  Not that such a distinction should be noteworthy with an extinct species, but in this case…..the Ivory Billed seems to be a phoenix in some respects.  It was first thought extinct in the 20’s.  But then, in the Singer (Sewing Machine Company) forest in Louisiana, the Ivory Billed was found again in the 30’s, only to once again be declared extinct in the 40’s.  Or is he?  Sightings have been reported, but nothing substantial, until 2005 when what seems like a plausible siting in the Ozarks was made.  Hope truly is a thing with feathers, because the search has continued to try to find and confirm the existence of this magnificent bird in the unsoiled forests and swamps of the deep South and Ozarks.  Having seen the still incredibly impressive Pileated Woodpecker, while reading about its legendary cousin, I feel that in my own way I have had a brush with the extinct….and  the sorrow that comes with realizing that real extinction is forever.

I hope he still lives. #HoCoBlogs

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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] It is, undoubtedly, due to the Emerald Ash Borer.  We’ve lost a lot of trees in the region, and in Columbia, from the pest.  I understand the need to remove them, although the change in the view of my path will be sad to see.  It was right beside the first tree in the first picture that I saw my first (and only) in-person pileated woodpecker. […]

    Reply

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