Extinction: Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, D&D’s celestial Questing Bird

Declared extinct less than three months ago, the ivory-billed woodpecker is inextricably linked with heroic quests throughout history.

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Lucas: Welcome to Making a Monster: Extinction. Every episode features an extinct animal from the real world given a second life as a Dungeons & Dragons monster. This is the companion podcast to Book of Extinction, a collection of these monsters coming to Kickstarter in 2022. On September 29th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared 23 species of animals extinct. Only 11 species had previously been removed due to extinction since the Endangered Species Act became law in 1973. The announcement is a stark reminder of the mass extinction crisis we’re facing. Worldwide, vertebrate populations have declined by an alarming 68% since 1970, according to the world Wildlife Federation.

Lucas: The announcement was not without its controversy. The best known species on the list was probably the ivory billed woodpecker. Unconfirmed sightings of this magnificent bird continued to fuel, ultimately fruitless searches through old growth forests in U.S. cypress swamps.

Cornell bird biologist, John Fitzpatrick, told PBS the announcement was “little gained and much lost.”

“A bird this iconic,” he said, “and this representative of the major old [00:02:30] growth forests of the southeast, keeping it on the list of endangered species keeps attention on it, keeps states thinking about managing habitat on the off chance it still exists.”

So for this episode, I’d like to introduce you to two guides to the story of the ivory billed woodpecker.

Kieran Suckling: My name is Kieran Suckling, and I am the Executive Director and founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, which is a endangered species protection group that [00:03:00] mostly works, uh, here in the U.S., but also internationally. And we try to save , all species great and small from, from butterflies and, insects to polar bears and wolves, and to end the mass extinction crisis that’s been sweeping over this planet for the last 500 years.

Ben Gilsdorf: My name is Ben Gilsdorf. I am a recent graduate of Amherst College, where I worked at our museum of [00:03:30] natural history, and now I am a itinerant job seeker and hobby ornithologist.

Ben Gilsdorf: I worked at the natural history museum. I did in college for two and a half years. And there was a real emphasis on extinction. Whether that be manmade or natural. Talking about how species come into existence over all these years and how quickly they can be wiped out.

Ben Gilsdorf: And I think it’s something that we are sort of pressed to think about a lot more due to the changing climate and everything like that. So it’s [00:04:00] interesting the way you’re combining that phenomenon with lots of other ways that people engage with animals and creatures at large. And I’m humbled that I get to be a part of that. And I’m looking forward to see what you can do with this. Cause it sounds like you’ve got some awesome stuff.

Lucas: Thanks man. Yeah, I’m slowly building a team and a network of really great people. So thanks for being a part of it. Tell me about you. So you did your undergrad at Amherst College and that was fairly recently, right?

Ben Gilsdorf: Yeah. So I graduated in may of [00:04:30] 2021. I’m from Amherst, Massachusetts originally. So a local boy. But when I was there, I was lucky enough to work at the natural history museum we have on campus called the Beneski Museum of Natural History. I’d been there a lot as a kid actually. It was pretty commonplace for school field trips, even from, you know, elementary school, just to look at things and think very large scale about dinosaurs and stuff, but then even an AP bio class, we’d go look at evolutionary traits and things like that so it was pretty cool to be able [00:05:00] to work there and be on the other side of things. And it allowed me to put this lifelong interest I’ve had in birds to sort of a larger purpose, including teaching kids about it, which is something that I found probably the most, um, most appealing and something that I, I think is kind of cool about your project too, is getting these stories out there to people and raising awareness.

Lucas: Great. So you said a lifelong interest in birds. How did that start? And what does that mean?

Ben Gilsdorf: Yeah, so my mom and her mom are birdwatchers. [00:05:30] I think it started with my mom’s maternal grandfather. So my maternal great-grandfather, he was a big orchid collector in Puerto Rico and the Dominican. But I think that sort of general fascination with observing things in nature, categorizing them, classifying them, writing down what you’ve seen with something that he was really into.

Ben Gilsdorf: And that was mostly, it was about orchids, but then my grandmother applied that to birds. My mom caught on. And so when I was like five years old, I, my dream job was to be an ornithologist. I thought it was going to be the coolest thing in the world. So I bird [00:06:00] watched, I have a life list. Um, I have a great pair of binoculars.

Ben Gilsdorf: I just think birds are really amazing. Not just in like the way they move, but in the variety of bird, you get, you know, the little house bear as it, sit outside your door to the bald Eagle, to the condor, see birds, penguins, ostriches, and there’s such a fascinating, um, Animal.

Ben Gilsdorf: And I think that, uh, something about them just makes them really fun to observe and categorize and classify. And I just loved going out into nature and trying to find them. Um, I even like this summer, I did a [00:06:30] big road trip from the east coast all the way to Utah in every state I was in, I would try to go bird watching somewhere, to see what, you know, when I was in the desert of Utah, it was like, what, what birds are there, there versus, you know, on the sea coast of Florida and Georgia? Uh, and I just get such a kick out of it. I think it’s so fascinating to see it, all that nature has.

Ben Gilsdorf: the ivory-billed woodpecker is fascinating because a lot of animals have gone extinct. A lot of birds have gone extinct, the passenger pigeon, the greater auk. But something about the ivory-billed woodpecker really captured people’s imagination and became this like, like embodied like the, you know, the, the hunt for the missing animal that like adventure, full spirit.

Ben Gilsdorf: So if you’ve ever seen a pileated woodpecker it’s the bigger woodpecker with the red crest, black and white body long bill. That’s sort of the most famous when people think of a big woodpecker, it looks like that the ivory build looks remarkably similar to that.

Kieran Suckling: Ivory-billed, for a woodpecker, it’s very big. You know, it’s not in the [00:07:30] range of, the dodo or the auk. It’s about a foot and a half tall. But for a bird that’s a very big bird. Uh, if you saw a foot and a half tall bird in your backyard, you’d be like, oh my God, what is, what is that? Its wingspan was two and a half feet wide. So in flight, it was just, you know, positively, enormous.

Kieran Suckling: And it was very striking bird primarily black and white. Sleek body with these white stripes starting on the [00:08:00] shoulder, they would come down like racing stripes and then back towards. a white, lower tail. So, very dramatic looking and then, for the males the whole thing you know, colored in red, so this black, white, and red creature, um, very prominent, very, um, um, very striking.

Ben Gilsdorf: They lived in a different part of the country. So they lived in the American Southeast by and large and old growth Cypress forest. Probably [00:08:30] Southern Illinois down south, um, stopping in about as far west, as taxes, maybe Dallas, all the way over to Florida.

Ben Gilsdorf: And they lived in swamps. They were swamp birds, cypress swamp birds.

Kieran Suckling: It occurred in a coastal forest and the Southeast and Texas up to North Carolina, a lot of it’s swampy areas. So a lot of times people came across them, you’d be in a swamp [00:09:00] area, in a boat. And then you would just hear this, like pounding, pounding, pounding noise, of it hitting a tree long before you saw it, you know, and then you’d come out and see this enormous bird.

Kieran Suckling: Um, and it was so striking that, uh, you know, some of the early names for it were, were the “lord bird”, or even just “the lord god” was a name for, for it because it just seemed so [00:09:30] powerful, um, and, and amazing creature.

Kieran Suckling: And it of course had a long, sharp beak, which like any wood pecker. it would just pound its beak and its head into trees under the bark of trees, and thereby digging out bugs. they would eat from there, but also then excavating [00:10:00] cavities where it would live, which a lot of people don’t realize like the amount of pressure and power that would be impacted on the skull of such a bird is, is incredible.

Kieran Suckling: For a human, a single pound like that, right, would give you a concussion. And this bird is doing this thousands of times a day for its entire life. And so, uh, that whole group of [00:10:30] birds woodpeckers have developed this, really unique, brain casing and brain placement in the head to, to protect the brain from, from damage. In fact, they’ve been studied, for use in the design of football helmets, to protect football players because they also get huge, a massive concussion level pounding. So it has been an attempt to sort of replicate that to protect humans. [00:11:00]

Ben Gilsdorf: They’ve been around forever. Thomas Jefferson wrote a book about all the birds in North America and he recorded the ivory-billed woodpecker as one of those birds. When they’ve dug up Native American burial sites, they’ve found the beaks of ivory-billed woodpeckers as sort of an important trading piece. There’s records of people eating them. A hunter in West Virginia wrote in his notebook that he shot one and ate one for dinner in 1900.

Ben Gilsdorf: So what really hastened their demise was that after the civil war, there was a boom in, um, factory growth population, growth [00:11:30] urbanization, and people wanted furniture. They were getting nice apartments and houses and cities, and they wanted to have furniture and the place to go was the American south.

Ben Gilsdorf: And so big tracts of land and Louisiana. Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, were logged. And the logging destroyed the habitats of these birds. So it wasn’t really human predation. It wasn’t population pressure really from humans moving into their habitat. It was the clear cutting of forest to turn into [00:12:00] furniture.

Ben Gilsdorf: And so from the 1860s through the 1930s, the population fell. The ivory-billed woodpecker became really like the first public rallying cry for conservation laws in the United States. The Audubon society, it was like, “Hey, look, this bird is, you know, you don’t see them anymore. They’re really uncommon.”

Ben Gilsdorf: Louisiana had sort of the last few remaining examples of the bird and the Audubon society tried to protect it. It was really like their first big attempt to intervene in [00:12:30] conservation matters. There was a plot of land owned by the Singer company who made sewing machines. And they said, “Hey, can we buy this off you? We want to protect this bird.” And they said, “Nope.” And they cut it all down like a week later.

Ben Gilsdorf: And then whenever there were recorded sightings, and this is a phenomenon that happens all too often, people go out and shoot them because they were rare. So you got to get one for your collection. And so there was a state legislator from Louisiana who heard that there was one in his district. So he went back home, found it, shot it, stuffed it, put on his mantle piece. So by the early [00:13:00] forties, you’ve got your, really your last confirmed sighting of these birds in North America.

Kieran Suckling: It was last seen , in the U.S. about 1844, uh, but it’s one of those now that’s been gone for a long time, but has been subject of intense, debate and research and attempts to find it, and tens of thousands of hours have been spent by people trying to find it. And given that it’s such a big [00:13:30] bird, it’s such a loud bird, it’s one you would think people would say, “Well, well, it must be gone, right?” Because, it’s not a cryptic species hiding under a shrub or something.

Correction: The last two credible sightings of an ivory-billed woodpecker occurred in 1944 and 2004. More information is available in this fact sheet from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or in the book “Hope Is The Thing With Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds” by Christopher Cokinos.

Ben Gilsdorf: You’ve got decades of, “Well, I saw one, but I didn’t take a good photo.” And, “Oh, I heard one, but I can’t tell, I didn’t record it.” Or, you know, “Look at this grainy video I got!” And you have ornithologists spending hours looking at whether the flight pattern of the bird is that of the ivory-billed [00:14:00] woodpecker or the pileated woodpecker, and debates, and people rowing around in boats for years playing the bird’s call to try and get it to respond. Someone will submit a photo and they’ll be four or five papers in the academic journal about whether it was real or not.

Kieran Suckling: So it’s a species that logically, we could’ve given up on a long time ago and said, it’s gone. How could it not be there?

Ben Gilsdorf: I think that lore has like really pushed the bird’s popularity, even though it’s been 70 something years since it [00:14:30] last confirmed 80 something years, I think since the last confirmed sighting, the bird is like still regarded as something that is super, super, um, I don’t know, like it has this draw, and that there’s a Cuban version of the bread. The Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker that has also gone extinct over the last recorded setting was in the eighties. So there’s a lot of like, “Well, if the Cuban one’s out there, maybe the American one’s out there. Can you really tell the difference? Maybe they migrated to Cuba.”

Kieran Suckling: So it’s a species that, logically, we could’ve given up on a long time [00:15:00] ago and said, it’s gone. How could it not be there?

Ben Gilsdorf: And this year it came to a head because. The Fish and Wildlife Service moved it off the endangered species list and onto the list of extinct animals, which was sort of the nail in the coffin.

Ben Gilsdorf: But there’s a lot of people I know out there, maybe myself included although that was a tough blow, who believe that it’s out there somewhere, hiding in a dark corner of Missouri. And I think that that lore has really helped the cause. I think there’s every year, uh, a festival in like [00:15:30] Arkansas and Missouri people descend on this one town and they all go look for the bird and they sell like commemorative stickers and license plates and everything. It’s I just think it’s so, so cool that everyone is really gunning for this woodpecker that’s the size of a loaf of bread.

Kieran Suckling: We’ve continued to hold out hope and I think it’s precisely because it is such an impressive bird, such an amazing other earthling that we just don’t want to let it go. You know, we don’t want it to have slipped away and especially slipped [00:16:00] away while we’re here, you know?

Kieran Suckling: Cause we’re not talking about an ancient extinction. Consequently, today. Uh, you know, some people will call it “the holy grail” or “the holy grail bird” is another name for it. Uh which again is fascinating, right? Because you think of the Europeans searching the world for the holy grail and for real. You know, for real doing this, uh, and endless stories about the uh, holy grail, indeed going back to [00:16:30] Camelot and King Arthur, of course.

Kieran Suckling: So that’s not just an accident, you know, if we were previously calling it “the lord god bird”, then when it goes missing, we call it the holy grail bird, it’s completely tied up in our sense of what is sacred and our human need to just not let go and, and to find this thing. So it [00:17:00] remains the, uh, the holy grail of ornithology to this day.

Kieran Suckling: Some people will still maintain its out there and we’ve got to find it. There was a sighting, which almost certainly was not, the ivory-billed woodpecker about a decade ago, which spurred intense work to find it and the spending of millions of dollars to protect the land around it. Which is well done. I [00:17:30] don’t think it helps the ivory-billed woodpecker, it certainly will protect many other species and prevent them from going extinct.

The Day the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was Declared Extinct

Lucas: That announcement happened while I was doing interviews for this project. I’d finished the writing and we were just working on illustration to get the preview together. And then that announcement happened and like everything changed. Where were you when you heard the news?

Kieran Suckling: Oh, I got, you know, I, I was here in Portland. Um, [00:18:00] and when that came out, it, it was, yeah, it was really, it was devastating. It’s one of these things where, you know, it’s coming, it’s completely logical. Um, But then when it happens, you just, you still can’t, uh, [00:18:30] believe it, you know, uh, and having to, except that yeah. You know, this is, this is over it’s time to a time to move on, you know? Um, and that we can’t fix this one. It’s over It’s uh, and that something just so [00:19:00] important has, has just gone from the world, you know, it’s, um, world is not, not what it was and, and it probably is not what it was for a long time, but we were holding out hope that it, it could be.

Kieran Suckling: We did a memorial service here at the Center for, for all of them. And everyone, you know, came on, came on Zoom and we looked at pictures of them all and heard stories about them. And we [00:19:30] just felt it was important to, to have a memorial to note their passing and, and, and take a moment to respect them, appreciate them and realize that in fact, they are gone.

Lucas: Do you remember where you were when you heard about that?

Ben Gilsdorf: Yeah. I was sitting at home when the news came out and I remember I have a friend who’s a journalist at Forbes and she thought it was so funny throughout college that I was obsessed with this bird and never really [00:20:00] believed me that there was like this much larger, I don’t want to say conspiracy, but like obsession with the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Ben Gilsdorf: And so she said, “Oh my gosh, did you see the news?” And I said, “Yeah, like, let me tag you in some of the Facebook posts in like the groups I’m in for birdwatchers who are like outraged at this decision.” Um, And she was like, “Wow, I didn’t realize that this had this big of a following.”

I’m like,” Oh yeah. You know, there’s a lot of people who are convinced it’s still out there.”

Ben Gilsdorf: Like this news, you know, usually people would be sad. And I think the, the [00:20:30] generic response this time around was like, some people were like, “Ah, you know, there’s the nail in the coffin.” But a lot of people like,”No, no, no, like we don’t know that. Like it’s still out there.” Almost like the way people are with aliens.

Ben Gilsdorf: Um, but I remember I was, yeah, I was sitting at home at my table. I dunno, like part of me lives, like I want, I want to go be the one who finds it. Like, I’ve always dreamed of like, you know, taking a trip to Arkansas and bushwhacking and seeing one and taking the crystal photo that proves they’re still out there. So I don’t know. I like, it felt kind of like a, losing a childhood dream [00:21:00] a little bit.

Lucas: It’s become much more important to me, the longer I’ve gotten into this project that I give people somewhere to go from here, from this moment, from this feeling. Part of it is, talking of a memorial, is giving these species somewhere else to live and some other way to tell their stories, in a way that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Lucas: That’s why I’m writing Book of Extinction. Because I want these stories to live on through telling and retelling at gaming tables worldwide. I’m turning these animals into monsters for [00:21:30] Dungeons and dragons. The first three monsters are out now and they are my gift to you. Just go to scintilla.studio/extinction, or follow the link in the show notes to download the preview from the major hand press website, it includes the thylacine, the great arch and the passenger pigeon covered in previous episodes with stat blocks for both the real world animal and the monstrous version fit for the fantasy world of Dungeons Dragons When you download the preview, you’ll find an option to pay what you want for it. And any [00:22:00] money you give through there will be donated to conservation organizations, working to preserve endangered species, habitat and biodiversity. The ivory billed woodpecker is the first animal on this podcast not already released in the preview at the time of recording these interviews, I hadn’t written it, which meant I got the chance to ask a qualified experts, what they would do with the ivory billed woodpecker in a fantasy setting.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker as a D&D Monster

Ben Gilsdorf: Yeah, I would like, I I’m envisioning like a [00:22:30] woodland scene, right? Like, you know, like some, some like magical forest, but I think like an easy way to build. And maybe this is like, whatever it says, but like I’m imagining it having some sort of desired trait, whether it’s knowledge or something. But also it has the ability to sort of become invisible, like the bird itself, like it sort of fades in and out of sight.

Ben Gilsdorf: So, you know, maybe the characters need to go to this woods to get the information about the location of something or some tool. And of course the only animal that has it is this magical [00:23:00] ivory-billed woodpecker. That one second, you see it, the next second is completely disappeared. It’s elusive. It has what you want. People are drawn to it, but when you need to find it in the deep thick woods, it’s gone.

Lucas: If you had to write the ivory-billed woodpecker for a fantasy game, what would you do with it?

Kieran Suckling: no, that is really interesting. Well, what do I do again? The thing I would do with it, I would play with this [00:23:30] idea, almost dragon light. Um, and what do you mean by that would be this, this creature that see very often. Um, but you hear it, you know, you hear that sound and you know, it’s out, that’s kind of ominous, right. You’re out and you’re out in the swamps and there’s like pounding, pounding don’t, you know, on the trees, maybe it’s coming closer or maybe you’re coming closer to it.

Kieran Suckling: [00:24:00] Right. You’re coming into its lair, I guess. That’s what I’m thinking of here. It’s like, you’re out there in the boat. You hear that noise and you’re, you’re approaching it. Right. But you don’t see it yet. But, you know, it’s out there and you’re looking for sure. You don’t, you’re not just sort of wander aimlessly out there, like you’re looking cause you hear it and it’s densely wooded and dark and wet. Um, and then just all of a sudden this big creature just [00:24:30] comes starring in, on these huge wings. Um, it, it would be scary. It makes me think of what it would be like to like, you know, suddenly hear this noise, hear this roar, and then fracking comes flying out behind this mountain, you know?

Kieran Suckling: And you’re like, well, yeah, I heard of this. There it is. You know, um, it’s got that, um, that kind of power. And so it’s always, you know, [00:25:00] before it was extinct, uh, it was, it was not rare, but it was hard to find because it was in such dense, foreboding habitat. People aren’t out wandering around the swamps that much.

So it was always a mysterious creature that would then suddenly appear. And it’s, I think something playing with that, with that notion and, and, um, [00:25:30] and you would have to come to it, right? It’s not coming to you. It’s not showing up in your backyard. Right. You got to make a journey to where it is, if you’re gonna, encounter this species.

Kieran Suckling: And then the other thing I’m very interested in, in particular with this one is this notion of the, the holy grail in there, and this, this intensive search has gone on for so long. That’s the holy grail, all the stories about it, in our culture. Well, there are adventure stories, right?

Kieran Suckling: Cause it’s not like, [00:26:00] oh, you went out and got the ground. The ground is the reason you go and then various adventures happen and you see this and you see that and your attack and there’s wars and prisons, and you find a magic, fountain and all of that step. So it’s the adventure that happens when you’re looking for.

Kieran Suckling: And so many want to find it. And so that’s, what’s happened with this one even before it was, extincted searches through difficult terrain. In this case, these swamps for us to find this bird. And to think that when you find it, something will happen, but what, you know, what is it now? What will happen if you find the holy grail? I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone knew, but they knew they had to write something was going to happen. When, what would happen if you found the ivory-billed Um, I don’t think anyone knew, but they knew it would be something because it was such a [00:27:00] remarkable creature.

Lucas: We’ll call our ivory-billed D&D monster the Questing Bird, after the questing beast of Arthurian legend and, like the questing beast, it’s a story of hope. First off, the basics. We know from the fossil record and the end of megafauna that animals tend to get smaller, but we know from everything else that monsters tend to get bigger.

Lucas: We’ll set our questing bird in the Small size category, one up from regular birds in the game [00:27:30] and occupying the same space on the board as some of the smaller races of player characters in Dungeons & Dragons. Creatures with the beast type cannot use magic. They interact with the world in strictly physical ways.

Lucas: The Arthurian questing beast is a classic D&D monstrosity described as being bits of other animals put together. Our questing bird, the “Lord God bird,” “the holy grail,” is better described as a celestial. In so far as alignment is a useful concept for describing creatures in D&D, I would write this one as lawful good.

Lucas: And now we just need some actions. So I think there are two important traits here. First, the ability to enthrall, causing disadvantage on perception checks made to perceive any creature other than the questing bird itself. To seek the bird is to lay other pursuits aside. And second, its ability to grant a magical boon or a gift. We’ll rely on D&D’s schools of magic here and give it the ability to cast divination spells of sixth level or lower. If you find the questing bird, you will learn truth.

Lucas: My guests on this episode are Ben Gilsdorf, amateur ornithologist, and Kieran Suckling, founder, and Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Lucas: If people are listening to this and they want to get involved with your organization and the work that you’re doing, how can they do that?

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Biological Diversity

Kieran Suckling: Well, uh, the best way is to, uh, to come on our web page, www.biologicaldiversity.org, and, uh, sign up to become a volunteer or to get our, action alerts where you can just do stuff online. There’s lots of ways to, to plug in and lots of good work to be done. Due to the U.S. having a very, very strong environmental laws, especially Endangered Species Act, and a very, very long history of conservation, we’re actually [00:29:30] very, very successful at stopping extinction and very successful at bringing species who are near, then I add of extinction back and recovering them. It’s pretty clear that when we put our minds to it collectively as, as a culture, we can save these species and, and we do it a lot. We do it all all the time. So, [00:30:00] so this is definitely an area where you can be effective. You can join with many, many of them. People doing this work, all over the country. Whenever I’m dealing with any endangered species, you always find out there’s some guy there, or some grandmother, there are so much, they’ve just adopted this species and they’ve made it their life’s mission to save it and, [00:30:30] and they succeed. They, they do it. And honestly, it’s, it’s super fun. Um, because we’re out there learning about these species all the time and interacting with them, and getting to know more about this planet.

The Christmas Bird Count

Lucas: Is there some place you would want to direct people’s attention?

Ben Gilsdorf: So the one thing I want to plug is the Audubon’s Christmas bird count. The easiest way to know what birds there are and there aren’t is if people count how many [00:31:00] birds they see. So you can just get your phone out, Google Audubon, Christmas bird count. And essentially what you do is you go and you just look at birds, you write down what you see, you submit it to the Audubon. And obviously it’s not perfect. You know, it’s not the census that goes to everyone’s door and you know, it doesn’t knock on every tree in the forest, but it’s really important. I mean, it’s so there’s so many birds. It’s very hard to know how many there are, but this is a good way to sort of understand what birds are people seeing in what parts of the country.

Ben Gilsdorf: And if you [00:31:30] care about extinction, the only way to know a bird is extinct is if there’s no record of seeing it, and you you have to have a record that you did see it to know that you don’t see it. And so I think everyone should get your phone out, look up Christmas, bird count. I always do it every year. And I think it’s a fun way to get involved, especially when you’re thinking sort of cataclysmically about like extinction, like why don’t you go out and do something that, that plays into that in a good way. So that’s my one thing I want to plug. The Christmas bird count. That’s that’s your civic duty. That and [00:32:00] voting.

Lucas: The Christmas bird count takes place between December 14th and January 5th, and many organizers are still looking for volunteers. Even if you’ve never been birdwatching before, you can be paired with an experienced birder, so you can learn more and be a part of the effort. I’ll be taking part in the Christmas bird count this year. And while the podcast will be on hiatus until January, I hope to bring you a quick update from the field as I participate in the project.

Lucas: Book of Extinction also gives you two other ways to take [00:32:30] action in the fight against extinction. First, share this story or this podcast with the people who play games with you, just telling people these animals existed and what they represent begins to reverse the sliding scale of decreasing biodiversity by helping people realize what we’ve already lost.

Lucas: Second, donate to conservation through Book of Extinction. Go to scintilla.studio/extinction, or follow the link in the show notes to download the preview of Book of Extinction. You can pay what [00:33:00] you want for it, and whatever you pay will be donated to conservation efforts to preserve endangered species habitat and biodiversity.

Lucas: I’m currently meeting with conservation organizations to select a project and organize a grant. And you can follow this podcast or join my email list to get the details as they are finally. We’re not keeping any of the money raised through the preview. We just want the chance to tell you about Book of Extinction when it comes to Kickstarter in 2022. The full book will include [00:33:30] animals like the Carolina parakeet, Yangtze river dolphin, giant moa, and yes, the ivory-billed woodpecker. If you want to get your hands on that stat block that we built in this episode within the next month, you can join the Mage Hand Press Patreon, where we are releasing these animals as they’re written for play testing and feedback. And we’d love to have you as part of that community. Link is again in the show notes.

Three Finches on One Mountain

Lucas: So thank you for listening to Making a Monster. It’s been a real pleasure walking through 2021 with you. And I will see you in [00:34:00] January. Before I go, here’s a birdwatching story from Ben that gave me the courage to brave December weather.

Ben Gilsdorf: People have these collections that go back forever coins and it’s kind of like collecting and that you collect that you’ve seen it. But you let the birds be free. And I think there’s something kind of nice about that. Like it’s collecting memories and, and every bird I, I see, I write down [00:34:30] the year on the state, I saw it in, um, and I’ll go back and I’ll remember like, oh, I remember I saw that on this trip.

Ben Gilsdorf: There was this excellent bird-watching trip I did to New Mexico where I went out with this guy who was like 60. We woke up at four in the morning. We drove to this mountain in northern New Mexico that has all three species of roseate finch. Um, and we like saw them as the sun rose over the San DIA crest. It was like, I was like falling asleep in the car.

Ben Gilsdorf: I probably ate like 30 Krispy Kreme donuts that day. And I was [00:35:00] just crazy. I’m like, there, they are like these birds, like there’s one spot. They all have three different habitats that converge on one. And I was on that mountain and got to see all three of them at the same time, like that experience. And like the fact that it’s like one, three lines on the lifeless, like check, check, check for the story was so cool.

Ben Gilsdorf: And I don’t know, there’s something like kind of Valiant about putting in all this work to see these birds. And I think like, you know, when I talked to other birdwatchers, like, oh, that’s awesome. You did that. My grandma was floored that I got in to do that. And for most people it doesn’t matter. Birdwatching is [00:35:30] crazy cool. Like you can honor the 80 year old extinct bird and you know, the odds are very, very low that I ever will. But something about the, like the thrill of the chase without any negative side effects, right? Like you don’t have to kill anything.

Ben Gilsdorf: Everything still happens. You just get to observe nature unfolding. I think that’s really cool. Yeah. I think during COVID it was almost more cool because so many people weren’t going out as much. And a lot of people noticed like, oh, you know, nature’s healing. The birds are singing in the morning. Again.

Ben Gilsdorf: It’s like, well, the [00:36:00] birds have always been there. You’re just noticing them for the first time. And I hope that maybe for some people that really sparked like an awareness of like the natural world around them and a curiosity to engage with it, um, because birdwatching is really. It’s I dunno. I just, I think it’s just the greatest and I hope more young people get into it.

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