Elusive ‘Lord God’ woodpecker declared extinct

A woodpecker so beautiful it was given the name “Lord God Bird” was officially declared extinct by the US wildlife service on Wednesday, as scientists warned climate change was accelerating the loss of many rare birds.

The ivory-billed woodpecker was one of nearly two dozen species of animals and plants on the US Fish and Wildlife Services’ new extinction list, the latest casualties of the warming of the planet and habitat destruction.

It reportedly earned its nickname because it was so big and so beautiful that those blessed to spot it blurted out the Lord’s name. Singer Sufjan Stevens even wrote a song about the bird.

“This is not an easy thing,” said Amy Trahan, the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who reviewed the evidence and wrote the report concluding that the ivory bill “no longer exists.”

The US government is declaring the ivory-billed woodpecker and 22 assorted birds, fish and other species extinct

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

“Nobody wants to be a part of that,” a tearful Ms Trahan told the Washington Post. “Just having to write those words was quite difficult. It took me a while.”

The bird is native to the hardwood forests of the Southern US and Cuba. It was once the third-largest woodpecker in the world, but its population declined over the last century due to heavy logging and poaching.

Former US president Franklin Roosevelt spotted three in 1907 during a bear hunt in Louisiana’s swamplands.

The last universally accepted sighting of an American ivory-billed woodpecker was in the state in 1944, and the last universally accepted sighting of a Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker was in 1987. Sporadic reports of sightings and other evidence of the birds’ persistence have continued since then.

Various habitat restoration efforts were initiated in areas where the sightings were recorded, to protect any surviving individuals. However, the efforts ultimately failed.

"The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 per cent of the plants and animals under its care, but sadly these species were extinct or nearly gone when they were listed," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

"The tragedy will be magnified if we don’t keep this from happening again by fully funding species protection and recovery efforts that move quickly. Delay equals death for vulnerable wildlife."

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has been exceedingly slow to protect species, the centre stated.

It is a rare move for wildlife officials to give up hope on a plant or animal, but government scientists say they have exhausted efforts to find these 23, the Associated Press reported.

And they warn climate change, on top of other pressures, could make such disappearances more common as a warming planet adds to the dangers facing imperiled plants and wildlife.

Only 11 species previously have been removed due to extinction in the almost half-century since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.

A million plants and animals are in danger of disappearing, many within decades.

"We’re at risk of losing hundreds more species because of a lack of urgency," Ms Curry said. "The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool we have to end extinction, but the sad reality is that listing still comes too late for most species. 

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