When I heard the news that an Ivory-billed woodpecker had been sighted, my heart skipped a beat. Over the past few years there have been several possible sightings, and since I was a child, I've been intrigued by the possibility that they still exist. I've always held faith that somewhere, in some secluded southern swamp, these magnificent birds survive.
This time, my hopes were fulfilled with more than words of sighting—video! There was the bird I had always wanted to see—alive and flying right across the television screen, the white feathers on his great wings flashing with every stroke.
The Ivory-billed woodpecker is the slightly larger cousin of the Pileated woodpecker. The markings on the two birds are very similar, but the Ivory-billed has a full set of white secondary wing feathers. Their ivory bill is a sharp contrast to the dark bill of the Pileated. Both species have a striking yellow eye that makes them look extra alert. The Pileated has a bright, poppy-red crest which starts at his beak and trails off the back of his head. The red crest on the Ivory-billed starts at his eyes and continues over the top of his head. The male Pileated has a slash of red under his cheek which is not found on the Ivory-billed woodpecker. Actually the male Ivory-bill looks similar to the female Pileated, both having the same head crest and no cheek patch.
I have never seen the rare Ivory-billed woodpecker in person, but I have lots of descriptions in old field guides in my library. Over the years I have attempted to draw this bird based on old descriptions from ornithologists. Seeing the short but vivid video on TV gave me newfound inspiration.
I've often wondered why the Ivory-billed woodpecker is in such peril. After all, its cousin the Pileated is more commonly seen, and both similar-sized birds prefer the habitat of old-growth forests. Apparently the Ivory-billed bird requires seclusion and less interference from the developed world. Some species have a more fragile lifestyle, and they need special consideration. We can learn a lot from a bird who cannot adapt to a changing or threatened environment—and take note. All creatures may reach a point when they can no longer exist in an unbalanced natural environment.
The whip-poor-wills, who come to this valley each spring, have not arrived yet. There is still time for them to show up, but I'm worried—thinking about what it means to become extinct. It would be sad not to hear the whip-poor-will's songs on warm summer evenings.
The appearance of the rare Ivory-billed woodpecker is a reminder that mother nature is in crisis. Many wildlife species are rapidly disappearing, while others are feeling pressure as the unnatural world crowds them out of habitat and home. Let this threatened creature remind us to find understanding and compassion in our hearts. It's time to heal the damage we have done. We can start by giving it some honest thought.
So please, let yourself be outside and allow your mind to ponder what you hear and see.
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