A new birder discovers a fascination with extinct birds.
Hollars’ (English/Univ. of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; This Is Only a Test, 2016, etc.) fascination with birds, living and dead, began with the possible rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, long thought extinct, in the swamps of Arkansas. Similar in size and coloring to the pileated woodpecker, the ivory-billed woodpecker was hunted for its feathers and meat to the point of annihilation. Through books and interviews with ornithologists, Hollars tracks the saga and demise of this particular woodpecker, which leads him deeper into the extinct-bird arena. He muses on passenger pigeons, once numbering in the billions, a lone pair of goshawks discovered in 1935 and the hermit who lived in the Wisconsin wilderness and tried to protect them, and the dusky seaside sparrow, which was wiped out in part due to the building of the Kennedy Space Center. He examines the early methods humans used to study birds—shoot, stuff, draw, and/or paint likenesses—that eventually caused the birds’ demise and juxtaposes those with the joy birders feel when they add a bird to a life list. Hollars also shares the awe he felt when he finally saw and held the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker (even if it was a stuffed specimen in a dusty museum drawer). Although the text is a bit dry, birders and naturalists will enjoy the author’s descriptions of birds and their environments; his writing clearly displays his enthusiasm for the subject, and he balances it nicely with historical research embedded throughout each chapter. The author’s examination of extinct birds can only raise awareness and concern for the species that are still on this planet.
An insightful memoir on one man’s quest to know living birds by examining those birds that have ceased to exist.