November 18, 2010

The tragedy of extinction

The Race To Save The Lord God Bird
by Phillip Hoose

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was a large black-and-white bird that used to roam the American south and parts of Cuba. It instilled awe in anyone who saw it; their cry of Lord God, What a bird! gave the bird its nickname.

Hoose's amazing book spans 200 years of history, introducing hunters, bird collectors, artists, and lumber companies. The first chapters are disturbing and saddening as whole families of birds are killed for prestige, fashion, and scientific study. It is especially tragic knowing that early ornithologists, although great contributors to our knowledge of birds, were often responsible for a species' demise, as were the many museums clamoring for specimens. Conservation was not on anyone's agenda; in fact, demand for a bird increased the closer it was to extinction! Thank goodness today's ornithologists would rather study live birds than dead ones.

The best chapters take readers deep into a Louisiana swamp, where James Tanner, a young ornithology student, struggles to find the last remaining ivory-bill and save its ever shrinking habitat. He was only partially successful.

Over the years, there have been sightings, although none officially documented. The search is still on for the Lord God bird; perhaps one day, it will return. Until then, we can only hope.

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