Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Ivory-billed Woodpecker
13" x 6" x 9"
mixed media, hand painted, sewn and beaded leather, seated on wooden chair

The two largest species of woodpeckers in the world, Imperial Woodpecker (20% larger than the Ivory-billed Woodpecker) are both all but extinct. The Imperial has not been definitively sighted since 1956 in its historic range, the Sierra Madres of northwestern Mexico. Logging of dead trees that host the beetles which are its primary food source and hunting have wiped out this majestic woodpecker. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker's tale could be just as tragic.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Campephilus principalis
CR ( critically endangered)

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, two feet long from beak to tail, has a wingspan of two and one half feet. Its bill ( three inches long and one inch wide at the base), is used to scale bark off of freshly dead mature trees, with trunks up to three feet in diameter, in search of beetle grubs, their primary food source. This gigantic bill is also a tool used to excavate holes for nesting and roosting within these tree trunks. Ivory-billed Woodpecker's diet also consisted of persimmons, wild grapes, seeds from poison ivy and magnolia, and various berries. They are thought to pair for life and female will lay between one to four white eggs a year.

Once the Ivory-billed Woodpecker could call home million and millions of acres of pristine bottomland hardwood forests within the Mississippi River Valley, vast swamps and river bottomland forests that stretched across the southern states down into Florida, as far west as eastern Texas and northward into the boot heel of Missouri, then eastward across southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and southern Ohio. The hardwood forests of Cuba were ( and possibly still are) the only other place in the world that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker inhabited.

Of that vast contiguous forest across the southern United States only small scattered pockets of timber remain. Tiny sanctuaries possibly too tiny to sustain the feeding requirements of this large bird. Timber and agricultural industries still threaten the existence of their compromised range.

If the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extant and has adapted to these isolated habitats, we humans have been given a second chance at saving this species from extinction. Sightings of one woodpecker were made in February 2004 and October 2005 in eastern Arkansas. Intensive survey teams have scoured the Big Woods area, part of which is located in the White River National Wildlife Refuge, looking for the bird or signs of a nesting tree. Searches are also being conducted in the remaining forested mountains of Cuba where suitable habitat remains. The last confirmed sighting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in eastern Cuba was in 1987.

I highly recommend reading The Race To Save The Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose from cover to cover.

No comments: