For 44 years, Bobby Harrison has been in search of a very specific quarry: the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that has not officially been sighted since 1944. For Garden & Gun, Lindsey Liles profiles the man and his mission.
Species go extinct all the time—most slip in silence out of this world, where they once forged a careful place for themselves, without ceremony or eulogy or mourning. But the ivorybill will not go quietly. Like any we love, it will go with weeping and gnashing of teeth and a litany of mea culpas, because after all, the Lord God Bird has become, through its beauty and its resurrections and its champions, more than a bird—it is a story; a tragedy, a cautionary tale, of how we let a symbol of the South’s wildest, most mysterious heart slip away. And like the ancient mariner who shot the albatross, we are compelled to tell the tale. It haunts us.
What will you do, I ask Harrison, if they declare the ivorybill extinct? At his age, the bulky batteries that power the trolling motor feel heavier. Stepping in and out of the canoe demands more balance. Loading up the van for the five-hour drive to Arkansas takes longer than it once did. “The ivorybill itself isn’t likely to notice that the government declared it extinct,” he answers. “As long as I’m able, I’ll be out here searching.”