Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Great Auk and other "Extinct" Birds

NOTE.  I'll be taking a blogcation for the next several days.  Until then, I have some great posts scheduled.  Talk to you all soon.
After a late night read and lots of afterthought later, this post was created. If you are like me, you may have a hard time reading this. But after my websearch, I have a little more historical knowledge on extinct birds from the recent past.  If you've followed my blog for awhile, you all know that I am closely keeping an eye on cloning and threatened or extinct creatures.  Man is quite a stain on this planet.  We are the one animal that has caused mass extinction for many creatures great and small over our thousands of years lifespan. Today some believe we face the 6th extinction ....our own. Before I begin, I have done a lot of research on several topics about extinction.  It ranges from species labeled Extinct to Returning From Extinction.  I think these are incredibly fascinating reads.  But that's just me:) Today I address another idea around the theme of extinction.  What if a bird were labeled extinct, yet still lived?  The 1800's were especially difficult on the bird species.  Mass hunting and fashion around the world put many birds at risk.  A century later, DDT would take more birds like the California Condor or the Bald Eagle to near extinction.
Pictures taken from Wiki
One evening while investigating a potential area to find the Rufous Hummingbird, I found a link to extinct birds.  As a child, I was always saddened by what humanity was doing to this world.  And I clicked the link.  I didn't expect to be caught up for hours researching endless pages about these extinct birds.  My questions would lead to more questions and then my thoughts would spiral out of control.  Eventually I had to go to bed and sleep.  I had work the next day:(  It was one of the hardest things to do.  My heart is in the field.
But what kept me up all night was the mystery of the Eskimo Curlew.   Is it extinct or not?  Could the Great Auk be cloned back into existence?  Those two topics pushed me to read more....and more.....and more.  First, the Eskimo Curlew.  Listed as critically endangered, most think this bird is extinct.  Yet random reports keep coming up that these birds still live here and there. Some even know where some of these birds still breed. But it's kept "secret".  From what I gathered, a reliable ornithologist from Wisconsin heard this bird in Nova Scotia.  I imagined knowing all that you could know about birds....going into an area to bird....and then listening to something you've never heard before.....and then seeing this strange miracle in person.  Imagine how you would feel.
The thrill of being out in the field is like that for me everytime I go.  I don't take any bird for granted.  The above map shows us where the Eskimo Curlew once numbered in the millions.  They were hunted by people, but the extinction of a grasshopper over the destroyed prairie lands ended the mass migrations.  And soon the millions of Eskimo Curlew would disappear to one last confirmed sighting on Galveston Island, Texas in 1962.  Reports would spring up from different areas saying that this bird was spotted.  However no photos or video exist.  Could this bird still be alive? And if so where?  The mythical Unicorn or Dragon of our times.  For the spiritual, the Holy Grail.  And for the birder, a possibility.  But moving on....
My research then moved to the curious looking bird known as the Great Auk.....related to the penguin.   However it looks more like a Dodo bird which is also extinct.  This bird is most definitely extinct. The last bird was killed on July 3rd, 1844.  These large birds were hunted for their feathers and eggs. And similiar to my own adventure to Bird Island off the coast of Mexico to find the Blue Footed Boobie, these great birds would be found on isolated islands around Scotland and Norway.
The last colony of Great Auks lived on Geirfuglasker (the "Great Auk Rock") off Iceland. This islet was a volcanic rock surrounded by cliffs which made it inaccessible to humans, but in 1830 the islet submerged after a volcanic eruption, and the birds moved to the nearby island of Eldey, which was accessible from a single side. When the colony was initially discovered in 1835, nearly fifty birds were present. Museums, desiring the skins of the auk for preservation and display, quickly began collecting birds from the colony. The last pair, found incubating an egg, was killed there on 3 July 1844, with Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangling the adults and Ketill Ketilsson smashing the egg with his boot. Source  Could cloning bring this bird back from extinction?  78 skins, eggs, and several eyes and organs have been stored.  How terrible does all this sound?  For myself, it makes me look at humanity and what we are doing today.  I imagine myself boating past the Great Auk Rock wondering what these birds sound like......and I look at birding differently. I also imagine the eery silence that once contained "many voices". Let's just say that  I don't take things for granted anymore.
I'd like to end on more hopeful note.  Another bird listed as definitely extinct is the Ivory Billed Woodpecker and too is still "seen" now and again. Is this just another UFO story?  Is this bird really extinct? Some birders claim to have recently seen it.  And yet it is listed as extinct. While most of this is negative, I still hold hope that they are out there....away from people.  Afterall, it's what excites us all......the possibility of spotting something rare like a Jaguar or Mountain Gorilla.  The Jaguar was said to be extinct in Southern Arizona and it has quietly returned.  Some believe they were there all along.  Keep hope that we all can learn and teach others about our past mistakes.  One final random thought....and it's random. Here it is:)  I think the reason why I connect to Lord of the Rings so much was because the story addresses mortality.....the departure of magic and elves.  Perhaps that's why the movie "Avatar" was such a strikes a chord with people.  It makes us aware that life is precious in any form. Can humanity reverse the damage done from our past mistakes? If it's one thing that's certain, it's that we need to be better caretakers of this planet or we will definitely face the 6th extinction.  And then either cockroaches, pigeons or rats will take over.....


  1. The excitement of seeing a rare bird is beautiful, let us believe it.

  2. Don't forget about coyote surviving the sixth extinction.

    And people have actually brought the condor back, not enough to delist yet, but now over half the 405 condors are flying free from the 22 that were left 20 years ago.

    We are a slow learning species.

  3. Sad but true mankind is in my opinion an alien on this planet. I have a friend that saw a Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Florida a few years back. I would consider him a very reliable source. So maybe there is hope that one day extinction status could be removed on this one.

  4. A really interesting and informative post Chris. Its so sad what humans have done (and continue to do) to this planet and goodness only knows what damage climate change will cause to Earth and life on it. However, it is nice to think that possibly some of the extinct species could be brought back by cloning or other means or that somewhere some species, thought extinct, survive hidden away.

  5. Z dużym zainteresowaniem przeczytałam Twój post. Bardzo mi się podobają Twoja przemyślenia na temat nie żyjących już gatunków zwierząt. Dziękuję za to i pozdrawiam.
    With great interest I read your post. I really like your thoughts on the no longer living animal species. Thank you for that and greet.

  6. Hi Chris, Hope you have a wonderful time "OFF"...

    Interesting post... I have wanted to see the Ivory Billed Woodpecker for the longest time. They have been (or were) spotted in Arkansas at one time... I think of them every time we go near that area....

    Have fun!!!

  7. Great post, I think it is a shame that people just do not seem to care. Especially when it comes to the wildlife and their habitats. I love seeing all the birds and the critters.

  8. We humans do need to tread lightly on this earth and learn from past mistakes.

  9. Oh, wow. Now I am going to have that song, "Dodo" by Genesis stuck in my head. That's okay. I like it! Have a good trip!


Thanks for stopping by!