It’s big news today: Ivory-billed woodpeckers are not extinct! These big birds have been thought extinct since no living specimens had been seen in over sixty years. This excerpt from Cornell’s account of the first sighting conveys the excitement:
On February 27, as Sparling paddled ahead, a large black-and-white woodpecker flew across the bayou less than 70 feet in front of Gallagher and Harrison, who simultaneously cried out: “Ivory-bill!” Minutes later, after the bird had disappeared into the forest, Gallagher and Harrison sat down to sketch independently what each had seen. Their field sketches, included in the Science article, show the characteristic patterns of white and black on the wings of the woodpecker.
“When we finished our notes,” Gallagher said, “Bobby sat down on a log, put his face in his hands and began to sob, saying, ‘I saw an ivory-bill. I saw an ivory-bill.'” Gallagher said he was too choked with emotion to speak. “Just to think this bird made it into the 21st century gives me chills. It’s like a funeral shroud has been pulled back, giving us a glimpse of a living bird, rising Lazarus-like from the grave,” he said.
My grandparents, both nature-lovers and birders, would have been thrilled to hear of this re-discovery. They had a big influence on me as I spent summers with them at their woods-bordered house. Grandpa built and erected bird feeders in their back yard, always tinkering in the hope of thwarting the fat grey and red squirrels’ attempts at raiding them.
Some of my happiest memories are of sitting out on the back deck with grandpa, binoculars in hand, as he told me what the different birds were: winter-visiting juncoes, bright red northern cardinals, sassy bluejays…feeder-raiding European starlings. To this day, the sharp, sassy cries of the bluejay bring me right back to that deck. I wish we could buy their old house some day so I could really be back on that deck.
It was a second-story deck and we had front-row seats of everything going on in that woodland yard. My father installed floodlights so the wildlife could be enjoyed past nightfall. Raccoons came by nightly for bread my grandparents bought just for them. There was even a fox who came to trust my grandparents. They always said it was a silver fox, but perhaps she was a red one in the silver phase of coloration. Whatever she was, she was beautiful. Come evening, grandma would call out, “foxeeeeee….”, and before long the vixen would emerge from the woods. When she had a family, she brought those kits into the yard with her a few times. What a treat that was to see!
My grandparents quit feeding the animals when a raccoon boldly came up to their camper one day while they were inside preparing it for a trip. This fella put his paws on the step and peered in, and they knew the animals were getting too tame around people. The birds they continued to feed, though. One time, a hummingbird flew right up to grandpa as he ate an ice cream cone; that little bird had a sample before buzzing away again!
Every child should have such loving grandparents. I miss them so! We lost grandma to an automobile wreck in 1989, and grandpa died within a year or so. Grandma was in her late sixties and grandpa in his early seventies; both came from long-lived families, so losing them so young was especially hard when we consider how long we might have enjoyed their company.
But back to these Lazarus-inspired woodpeckers. Like I said, I know my grandparents would have been tickled to learn the birds had been re-discovered. I can just see my grandma’s face lighting up with that startled “oooooooh!” and the raised eyebrows.
But as I write this, I’m not so sure they don’t know about it. As a matter of fact, I bet she and grandpa have been in on the secret for a while, just waiting for us earthbound folk to re-discovered them. 🙂
I have this mental picture of them shooting the breeze with the angels. Everyone’s enjoying the fellowship together, sitting on a verdant bank by the River of Life, skipping stones in the pure water. One angel leans over to grandpa and says, “Leonard, you know those ivory billed woodpeckers?”
“Yes, what about them?” grandpa replies.
“You don’t say!”