Gone: One Beautiful Bird
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed removing 23 species of animals and plants from the Endangered Species List. Occasionally there are species, such as the Gray Wolf and the Northern Brown Kiwi, that are removed from this list because their populations have rebounded. Those that lost their designation this time were not so fortunate. All have become extinct.
One of those missing beings is the Kauai O’o. This black, brown, and white native of the Hawaiian island of Kauai had feathers of bright yellow on the upper part of its legs. Its long, tapered beak gave it access to its favorite food, flower nectar. It built its nest inside the cavities of rainforest trees, and both male and female guarded the fledglings. Among the causes of the birds’ demise were rats, mosquitoes, domestic pigs, and habitat destruction. The Kauai O’o has not been seen or heard since 1985.
I am writing this because, in their online report about the 23 vanished species, the New York Times featured a blurry video and a recording, courtesy of Cornell Ornithological Laboratory, of the Kauai O’o. The high-pitched, variable whistle sounds reflective, as if the bird is commenting on various things: the location of the sun, the nearness of its mate, the breeze. The song is beautiful and we will never hear it again.
How do we live with the loss of the Kauai O’o and all the other beings who are no more? How do we live with the knowledge that climate change will eradicate many thousands more species?
One option is to participate in the Remembrance Day for Lost Species, which takes place every year on November 30th, with people all over the world honoring extinct beings through art, music, and ceremony. As for me, I’m going to start building a cairn in my yard. Each stone will represent one species that has vanished from Earth. This cairn will not be built hurriedly. I will get to know a species first by reading about its habits and, if possible, listening to its voice. Then I will thank that being for its life and add a stone to the cairn. The first stone will be for the Kauai O’o.
Trebbe Johnson explores people’s relationship with nature through her writing and work with the nonprofit she founded and directs, Radical Joy for Hard Times, which is devoted to finding and making beauty in wounded places. She is a recent collaborator with DAF on the Deep Live Gathering, as co-creator of the Earth Ceremony that was a part of the online/offline gathering.
This article was originally published in Radical Joy Revealed, Oct 20, 2021, a newsletter for Radical Joy for Hard Times.