World of Wonders

When we see things that aren’t, we miss the wonderful things that are.

Giving up the ghost bird?

In February, 2004, a lone kayaker paddling through an Arkansas swamp spotted a magnificent black and white bird. According to the kayaker, it was an Ivory-billed woodpecker, referred to as the “Lord God Bird” because that’s what everyone says when they see it: “Lord God!” The woodpecker had been considered extinct in the U.S. and the sighting was the first in decades. It triggered a fascinating and controversial quest to verify the existence of the ghostly species.

Scott Crocker, in his brilliant 2009 documentary film Ghost Bird, tells the compelling story of the reaction to the sighting and the controversial attempts to verify that the Ivory-bill had indeed returned. (I reviewed the film shortly after its screening at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto in May 2009.)

According to a February 10, 2010 report in Nature News, the sighting remains unconfirmed. “We don’t believe a recoverable population of ivory-billed woodpeckers exists” says Ron Rohrbaugh, a conservation biologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Rohrbaugh headed the original search team. According to the report, “…after five years of fruitless searching, hopes of saving the species have faded.”


Filed under: nature,

About me

I am a Toronto-based writer, author and photographer who is inspired and fascinated by science. Science is our best way of understanding the natural world, but it is much more than that. Science is culture, and its pursuit ultimately leads to meaning, values and wonder.  My interests include evolution, Darwin, the Galapagos Islands, secular humanism, religion, skepticism, climate change, and science culture.  For many years, I wrote and produced astronomy programs for the McLaughlin Planetarium of the Royal Ontario Museum. I am author of many books for young readers (Sterling Publishing and Penguin Young Readers, N.Y.) and articles for children's magazines. I also write non-fiction related to the themes reflected in this blog. You can read some of my longer non-fiction and view my photographs at, and follow me at


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