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59 Years Ago in Texas Game and Fish

A possibly premature obituary for the ivory-billed woodpecker appeared in the 1948 issue.

By Jon Lucksinger

Almost 60 years ago, Texas Game and Fish published this somber obituary for a species then thought to be extinct: the ivory-billed woodpecker. More than half a century later, scratchy audio recordings and blurry images indicate that the bird may still inhabit the Big Woods region of eastern Arkansas.

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From the December 1948 issue of Texas Game and Fish:

Requiem

From the magic pen of Donald Culross Petrie, one of the world’s foremost nature writers, came these prophetic words:

“The species man had long had his place in this life, a part of it, keeping the age-old balance. The red man never dammed a stream, never drained a swamp, never exterminated an animal. What ground he cleared for his primitive agriculture was negligible. … In no way did the Indian break the charmed circle of the wildlife community.

“One can but dimly picture today that great biota, the prodigal abundance with which this continent was originally stocked. It beggared even the expletives of the pioneers. What they say of the passenger pigeon sounds like the tall tales of tall woodsmen, save that the accounts agree….

“On the prairies thundered the wild cattle of that continent, the bison, whose footsteps made the earth tremble….

“In veracious recordings we have glimpses of deer, elk, antelope, and bear, raccoon and fox, waterfowl and salmon, whose profusion at the time of the white man’s coming made this virgin land the richest in wildlife he had known within the memory of his race. But when the white chips flew out of the first tree he assaulted, the ring of steel on living timber was the sound of doom for an immemorial order.”

Thus, when “the white chips flew out of the first tree,” the “sound of doom” rang out for another of America’s magnificent birds, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Word has been received recently that despite desperate efforts by the National Audubon Society to save the pitiful remnant of this bird in the Louisiana swamps, there are no more. They are gone completely. A specialized feeding habit of eating only certain grubs from a certain tree spelled the end for it as those trees upon which this woodpecker was dependent fell before the woodsmen’s axes.

During the war, no feeling could compare with that of listening to the names of comrades as they were read slowly and softly from the casualty list — “Adkins, Allen, Brown, Borowski, Dean, Etheridge, Jones, Luigi, MacGregor, Smith, Wilson, Young.”

A kindred feeling might be experienced as we hear the names of species exterminated from this continent intoned from the ever-lengthening roll — “Great Auk, Labrador Duck, Passenger Pigeon, Eskimo Curlew, Carolina Parakeet, Heath Hen, Ivory-billed Woodpecker.”

Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in an eight-part series commemorating the 65th anniversary of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine (formerly Texas Game and Fish).

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