Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Lord God Bird Rediscovered

The Ivory-billed woodpecker has been rediscovered in Arkansas! The species has not been observed in this country for over 60 years.

The rediscovery of this species is BIG news. Its like discovering a passenger pigeon. Or, in the words of Frank Gill, senior ornithologist of the Audubon Society, “Its kind of like finding Elvis.”

This article has a recent photograph of a male individual that shows the distinctive white arrowhead on the back of the resting bird. [5/2/05 update: photo replaced with an illustration...sorry.]

Decades ago, when these majestic woodpeckers were more common, locals had a variety of names for them. My favorites are The Lord God Bird and kint; the latter name homophonic with the nasal one-note toot the bird mutters while foraging. Audubon himself noted the call as “pait”, and compared it to the “high false note of a clarinet”, which, I might add, anyone that has endured a beginning band class has experienced.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers are about 20 inches tall, which makes them even larger than the common pileated woodpecker, the other big woodpecker in North America.

Emily Dickinson began a sweet poem with these lines:

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all"
I admire and believe in the hope that drove ornithologists to search the primeval swamp forests of the Southeast for 60 years until they found The Lord God Bird again.

Now my plug for one of the best nature books I've read in years, which I've mentioned before: Chistopher Cokinos' book Hope is the Thing With Feathers. Cokinos writes passionately about North American bird extinctions. Incidentally, the cover of the book has a great illustration of an Ivory-billed woodpecker, one of the birds he treats in the volume.

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