The fascinating tale of one man's fight to save the cahow, a bird “believed extinct since the early 1600s.”
In a book that is part history of the Bermuda area and part collection of interviews, Boston Globe Magazine contributor Gehrman brings to light the surprising story of David Wingate, known in his homeland as "birdman." Captivated by birds from a very early age, Wingate has devoted his life to studying and saving the Bermuda petrel, or cahow, a seabird only found in the Bermuda Islands that mates at night and spends most of the year over the open ocean. A common bird in the islands when settlers first arrived in the 17th century, the cahow's habitat and numbers were devastated by invasive rats, cats, dogs and pigs, and it was believed to be extinct. In 1951, 15-year-old Wingate and two scientists discovered several nesting pairs of cahows, an event that changed his life. Not content to just reestablish their colonies, Wingate battled bureaucratic red tape, natural disasters and personal loss to stabilize and reforest an entire island to serve as home and sanctuary for these birds. After all, Wingate surmised, "[i]t wasn't just the cahow that deserved to be saved, but the country's entire natural heritage—the sedge grass and buttonwoods, the night herons and skinks, the hackberries and cicadas." It has taken decades to reach the target 100-pair nesting mark, and the battle is not over yet, as rising sea levels and ocean pollution continue to threaten the cahow’s existence. Although others are now in charge of this huge conservation project, Gehrman's detailed account of Wingate's life demonstrates what amazing feats can be accomplished given sufficient time and determination.
Environmentalists and bird lovers alike will enjoy this look at the restoration of an endangered bird.