Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Grail Bird

In 2004 there was a confirmed sighting of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas. A man named Tim Gallagher from Cornell University, who had been tracking it for decades, read about a strange woodpecker sighting on a canoe club website, followed up on it and sure enough there it was. Previous to this discovery, it had been since 1944 that the bird had been spotted. Tim Gallagher wrote a book "The Grail Bird" about his search for and eventually finding the bird and his hopes for “one final chance to get it right, to save this bird and the bottomland swamp forests it needs to survive."

Here on the grounds of MasterWorks Studios we occasionally see a similar bird, the Piliated Woodpecker. John was on his way out to work on a bronze restoration project one January day and was able to snap this picture of the bird feeding on the suet feeder outside his shop window. The Ivory-Billed woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America with a wingspan of 30 to 33 inches. Our Pileated, the second-largest, has a wingspan of 26 to 30 inches. There are other visual differences in the birds’ appearance like the white and black markings on its face and neck.

There are at least two of the Pileated woodpeckers that have flown over and fed on our property since we moved out here over ten years ago. Like the bluebirds, we did NOT see this bird when we lived in the city and it was a treat to see the first time we spotted it! It has a distinct call too, almost seems primitive and a little eerie, but cool and we are so lucky to have it around! We wish some day we could see some babies!

Webster Dictionary defines “grail” as “the object of an extended or difficult quest” so after spending 30 years looking for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker I’d say it was an appropriate word to use in naming his book. It was encouraging news to hear of the validated sighting of the Ivory-Billed bird not only to Tim Gallagher but even to people that were only remotely interested in birds and wildlife! It was a symbol of hope that maybe all the horrible, discouraging news we hear about our environment isn’t the only side of the story. Maybe there is still hope!

As the Ivory-Billed was a welcome site to Tom a few years ago, our Pileated is always a welcome site to us and symbolic of our personal hope and trust in the future. We don’t see it very often but it makes itself known often enough that we know it is there. It reminds me that this time of year, when winter is lingering and days are gray day after day, week after week, we know spring is out there and will return. Flowers will bloom, trees will re-leaf, the ground will dry out, life will go on……