During our visit to Cornell Lab of Ornithology in September, we took a tour that included the Museum of Vertebrates housed there. I was on the hunt for a Passenger Pigeon specimen to photograph for my post "Too Many Doves", and to tell you the truth, wasn't even thinking of seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
But there it was, a female Ivory-billed Woodpecker specimen, face-to-face with its partner in extinction, the Passenger Pigeon.
She was skinny and faded, showing her age, just a shadow of her former magnificent self. But to be in her presence was amazing and humbling, and not without a hint of shame. I had nothing to do with her extinction, but I do share the consumptive habits of earlier generations that did have a hand in her demise. I do accept responsibility.
Perhaps her mate was one of the males laid out in the nearby specimen tray, stretched out, chin up, wearing a faded tag reading Campephilus principalis. Both males called the Florida Keys home; one last foraged there 116 years ago - his tag marked the date: November 29, 1896.
In another area of the lab, I stood in awe of a metal canister. Not just any old tape canister you'd find in grandpa's attic, but a canister holding an audio tape of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It was recorded in 1938 by none other than Cornell Lab of Ornithology founder Arthur A. Allen.
The hubbub surrounding the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers' rediscovery in 2004 has died down, and despite hundreds of search teams and countless hours of video and audio recording in the inhospitable habitat the bird called home, more scientists are (reluctantly?) joining the camp labelling the woodpecker "extinct".
But my fascination with the life and demise of this magnificent bird will never die and the honor of having been in its presence is an experience I'll never forget.
All photographs were taken at the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates housed at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.