Look Homeward, ‘Pecker

Aug 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
ivory billed woodpecker

Illustration by John Cuneo

Until early last year, the ivory-billed woodpecker was presumed extinct—there hadn't been a confirmed sighting of the 20-inch-tall bird, once common in the southeastern United States, since 1944. But in April, after a yearlong hunt involving sophisticated remote sound-recording technology and plenty of neck craning, ornithologists announced that at least one male ivory-bill was indeed living in the Big Woods of Arkansas. Jason Daley recently caught up with the lone woody, who gave his first exclusive interview to Outside.

Sixty years is a long time. Where have you been?
I started out hunting poachers in the African bush. Back then they were taking ivory from elephants and walruses. Ivory, ivorybill—it was only logical to think I was next. I formed a paramilitary group—the Ivory Wing—and we took out hunting camps in Tanzania. We did some good. But so much death—somewhere along the way I lost myself.

How did you elude being spotted for so long?
After Africa, I painted my bill black and drifted around Asia with a bunch of magpies. I started practicing Zen, settled my mind a bit, invested in a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants in Beijing. But, c'mon, it's not like I was holed up with Osama—you four-eyed birders couldn't find Heckle and Jeckle if they were crapping on the president.

Why come home now?
I really like the direction America's heading. Market reform, deregulation—a 'pecker can make a killing in a business environment like this. For the U.S. launch of Cap'n 'Pecker's Crispy Chicken Pagoda, I'll be releasing a cover of "Ebony and Ivory" with Usher and touring with Jared, the Subway guy.

Any plans now that you're no longer extinct?
I think I'll run for national symbol. Just look at my beak—it's freakin' majestic. The bald eagle? Give me a break. That guy's a scavenger—is he even endangered anymore?

What about little 'peckers—any in the cards?
Hey, if you know where I can find me a lady 'pecker, do share. It's been a long time since I banged anything besides a tree.

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