I decided to write a review of the movie instead of listening to someone “uh-huh” me while they played video games. After watching a documentary about an extinct bird, the last thing I wanted was to have the message fall on deaf ears and I suppose that’s the point of a documentary. To spread the word. Regardless, my blood began to boil when I realized my friend was more engaged by fictitious explosions and gunfire than understanding this world and our place in it.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were probably never widespread or populous. Being one of the largest woodpeckers humans have known, they needed a lot of space. Even the Pileated Woodpeckers require their room, ample decaying trees for roosting and feeding in mature forests. Those few spread out Ivory-bills got our attention.
In his documentary Ghost Bird, Scott Crocker set out to explore the modern controversy this bird embodies. April 2005 saw a national announcement by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that one bird had been rediscovered and filmed in the swamps of Arkansas and the world of birding, ornithology, and conservation flew into a dervish of activity. I can remember where I was when I heard, it was like hearing Elvis was actually still alive. People wanted to believe that this bird was still out there. It offered redemption and a positive note, it brought tears to the eyes of those lucky few. The problem was, after five years, no verified sightings exist.
While it is uncommon to find a bird quite so captivating, the Lord God Bird is Hollywood worthy. Crocker brings us face to face with the absurdities of pride and belief that led a large amount of money and time to be dedicated to rediscovering a bird that has not been seen in the US since the 1940s. The power of this hope brought a spurt of economy to a depressed town and held controversy that almost no other bird could.
Crocker’s depiction of the key players, from scientists to locals in the Cache River area is both poignant and accurate. The subject of a presumably extinct bird will never be one of overwhelmingly happy amusement, but it certainly brings the story to vibrant life. At the very least it reminds all of us of our impact, as heart breaking as it may be. See the movie, read the half dozen books on the subject, and learn about a tiny portion of our environmental history. There’s much too much for me to try to discuss, so I expect you all to go out and see a fine bit of complicated, passionate conservation cinema.