(p. A21) NASHVILLE — Once upon a time, deep in the upland pine forests and hardwood bottomlands of the American South, a magnificent bird dwelt high in the treetops. The ivory-billed woodpecker was a denizen of old-growth forests, but by the end of the 19th century, vast stands of old-growth Southern forest were already gone. A confirmed sighting of the Lord God Bird hasn’t been recorded since 1944.
Reports of the elusive ivory-bill surface from time to time anyway. In 2004, a sighting in Arkansas inspired a frenzy among birders, but an exhaustive search by teams from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology turned up no definitive evidence of survivors. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct.
Now Steve Latta, the director of conservation at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, believes his team of researchers has found the bird living in the marshes of Louisiana. Using drones and mounted trail cameras, they have amassed both images and recordings of the birds, in addition to more than a dozen observations by the skilled researchers themselves. Comparing the markings, morphology, and foraging behavior of the birds they observed with those in historic photographs and videos, the researchers concluded that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct after all. “Our findings, and the inferences drawn from them, suggest an increasingly hopeful future for the ivory-billed woodpecker,” they write.
. . .
“Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are extinct,” tweeted the artist and birder Walter Kitundu. “And even if they weren’t I would still prefer you believed they were and left them the F alone.”
. . .
Wildness is everywhere, renewing itself among us, reminding us not to give up. And who could fail to feel hopeful, if only for a moment, in the presence of new life? Or in the smallest chance that old life has somehow come back from the dead?
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(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 25, 2022, and has the same title as the print version. The online version of the commentary says that the print version appeared on p. A23. But in my National print copy, the commentary appeared on p. A21.)