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Extinction: Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, D&D's celestial Questing Bird
Episode 1415th December 2021 • Making a Monster • Lucas Zellers
00:00:00 00:36:42

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Declared extinct less than three months ago, the ivory-billed woodpecker is the holy grail of birders all over the U.S. Get three extinct animals raised to life as monsters in D&D: https://store.magehandpress.com/products/book-of-extinction-preview

Get the Questing Bird stat block by joining the Mage Hand Press Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/mfov

Episode transcript: https://scintilla.studio/monster-extinction-ivory-billed-woodpecker/

Guides:

Kieran Suckling, Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Biological Diversity

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/

Ben Gilsdorf, amateur ornithologist

https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count

Transcripts

Lucas:

That announcement happened while I was doing interviews for this project.

Lucas:

I'd finished the writing and we were just working on illustration

Lucas:

to get the preview together.

Lucas:

And then that announcement happened and like everything changed.

Lucas:

Where were you when you heard the news?

Kieran Suckling:

Oh, I got, you know, I, I was here in Portland.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, and when that came out, it, it was, yeah, it was really, it was devastating.

Kieran Suckling:

It's one of these things where, you know, it's coming, it's completely logical.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, But then when it happens, you just, you still can't, uh, believe it, you

Kieran Suckling:

know, uh, and having to, except that yeah.

Kieran Suckling:

You know, this is, this is over it's time to a time to move on, you know?

Kieran Suckling:

Um, and that we can't fix this one.

Lucas:

Welcome to Making a Monster: Extinction.

Lucas:

Every episode features an extinct animal from the real world given a second

Lucas:

life as a Dungeons & Dragons monster.

Lucas:

This is the companion podcast to Book of Extinction, a collection of these

Lucas:

monsters coming to Kickstarter in 2022.

Lucas:

On September 29th, the U.S.

Lucas:

Fish and Wildlife Service declared 23 species of animals extinct.

Lucas:

Only 11 species had previously been removed due to extinction since the

Lucas:

Endangered Species Act became law in 1973.

Lucas:

The announcement is a stark reminder of the mass extinction crisis we're facing.

Lucas:

Worldwide, vertebrate populations have declined by an alarming

Lucas:

68% since 1970, according to the world Wildlife Federation.

Lucas:

The announcement was not without its controversy.

Lucas:

The best known species on the list was probably the ivory billed woodpecker.

Lucas:

Unconfirmed sightings of this magnificent bird continued to

Lucas:

fuel, ultimately fruitless searches through old growth forests in U.S.

Lucas:

cypress swamps.

Lucas:

Cornell bird biologist, John Fitzpatrick, told PBS the announcement

Lucas:

was "little gained and much lost."

Lucas:

"A bird this iconic," he said, "and this representative of the major

Lucas:

old growth forests of the southeast, keeping it on the list of endangered

Lucas:

species keeps attention on it, keeps states thinking about managing habitat

Lucas:

on the off chance it still exists."

Lucas:

So for this episode, I'd like to introduce you to two guides, to the

Lucas:

story of the ivory billed woodpecker.

Kieran Suckling:

My name is Kieran Suckling, and I am the Executive

Kieran Suckling:

Director and founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, which

Kieran Suckling:

is a endangered species protection group that mostly works, uh, here in

Kieran Suckling:

the U.S., but also internationally.

Kieran Suckling:

And we try to save , all species great and small from, from butterflies and,

Kieran Suckling:

insects to polar bears and wolves, and to end the mass extinction

Kieran Suckling:

crisis that's been sweeping over this planet for the last 500 years.

Ben Gilsdorf:

My name is Ben Gilsdorf.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I am a recent graduate of Amherst College, where I worked at our museum of

Ben Gilsdorf:

natural history, and now I am a itinerant job seeker and hobby ornithologist.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I worked at the natural history museum.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I did in college for two and a half years.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And there was a real emphasis on extinction.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Whether that be manmade or natural.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Talking about how species come into existence over all these years and

Ben Gilsdorf:

how quickly they can be wiped out.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I think it's something that we are sort of pressed to think about

Ben Gilsdorf:

a lot more due to the changing climate and everything like that.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So it's interesting the way you're combining that phenomenon with lots

Ben Gilsdorf:

of other ways that people engage with animals and creatures at large.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I'm humbled that I get to be a part of that.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I'm looking forward to see what you can do with this.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Cause it sounds like you've got some awesome stuff.

Lucas:

Thanks man.

Lucas:

Yeah, I'm slowly building a team and a network of really great people.

Lucas:

So thanks for being a part of it.

Lucas:

Tell me about you.

Lucas:

So you did your undergrad at Amherst College and that

Lucas:

was fairly recently, right?

Ben Gilsdorf:

Yeah.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So I graduated in may of 2021.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I'm from Amherst, Massachusetts originally.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So a local boy.

Ben Gilsdorf:

But when I was there, I was lucky enough to work at the natural history

Ben Gilsdorf:

museum we have on campus called the Beneski Museum of Natural History.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I'd been there a lot as a kid actually.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It was pretty commonplace for school field trips, even from, you know,

Ben Gilsdorf:

elementary school, just to look at things and think very large scale about

Ben Gilsdorf:

dinosaurs and stuff, but then even an AP bio class, we'd go look at evolutionary

Ben Gilsdorf:

traits and things like that so it was pretty cool to be able to work there

Ben Gilsdorf:

and be on the other side of things.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And it allowed me to put this lifelong interest I've had in birds to sort of

Ben Gilsdorf:

a larger purpose, including teaching kids about it, which is something that

Ben Gilsdorf:

I found probably the most, um, most appealing and something that I, I think

Ben Gilsdorf:

is kind of cool about your project too, is getting these stories out

Ben Gilsdorf:

there to people and raising awareness.

Lucas:

Great.

Lucas:

So you said a lifelong interest in birds.

Lucas:

How did that start?

Lucas:

And what does that mean?

Ben Gilsdorf:

Yeah, so my mom and her mom are birdwatchers.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I think it started with my mom's maternal grandfather.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So my maternal great-grandfather, he was a big orchid collector in

Ben Gilsdorf:

Puerto Rico and the Dominican.

Ben Gilsdorf:

But I think that sort of general fascination with observing things in

Ben Gilsdorf:

nature, categorizing them, classifying them, writing down what you've seen

Ben Gilsdorf:

with something that he was really into.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And that was mostly, it was about orchids, but then my

Ben Gilsdorf:

grandmother applied that to birds.

Ben Gilsdorf:

My mom caught on.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And so when I was like five years old, I, my dream job was to be an ornithologist.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I thought it was going to be the coolest thing in the world.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So I bird watched, I have a life list.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Um, I have a great pair of binoculars.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I just think birds are really amazing.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Not just in like the way they move, but in the variety of bird, you get,

Ben Gilsdorf:

you know, the little house bear as it, sit outside your door to the

Ben Gilsdorf:

bald Eagle, to the condor, see birds, penguins, ostriches, and there's

Ben Gilsdorf:

such a fascinating, um, Animal.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I think that, uh, something about them just makes them really fun to

Ben Gilsdorf:

observe and categorize and classify.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I just loved going out into nature and trying to find them.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Um, I even like this summer, I did a big road trip from the east coast all the

Ben Gilsdorf:

way to Utah in every state I was in, I would try to go bird watching somewhere,

Ben Gilsdorf:

to see what, you know, when I was in the desert of Utah, it was like, what, what

Ben Gilsdorf:

birds are there, there versus, you know, on the sea coast of Florida and Georgia?

Ben Gilsdorf:

Uh, and I just get such a kick out of it.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I think it's so fascinating to see it, all that nature has.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I think

Lucas:

Okay.

Ben Gilsdorf:

the ivory-billed woodpecker is fascinating because

Ben Gilsdorf:

a lot of animals have gone extinct.

Ben Gilsdorf:

A lot of birds have gone extinct, the passenger pigeon, the greater auk,

Ben Gilsdorf:

But something about the ivory-billed woodpecker really captured people's

Ben Gilsdorf:

imagination and became this like, like embodied like the, you know,

Ben Gilsdorf:

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

Ben Gilsdorf:

woodpecker with the red crest, black and white body, long bill.

Ben Gilsdorf:

That's sort of the most famous.

Ben Gilsdorf:

When people think of a big woodpecker, it looks like that the ivory-billed

Ben Gilsdorf:

looks remarkably similar to that.

Kieran Suckling:

Ivory-billed, for a woodpecker, it's very big.

Kieran Suckling:

You know, it's not in the range of, the dodo or the auk.

Kieran Suckling:

It's about a foot and a half tall.

Kieran Suckling:

But for a bird that's a very big bird.

Kieran Suckling:

Uh, If you saw a foot and a half tall bird in your backyard, you'd be like,

Kieran Suckling:

oh my God, what is, what is that?

Kieran Suckling:

Its wingspan was two and a half feet wide.

Kieran Suckling:

So in flight, it was just, you know, positively, enormous.

Kieran Suckling:

And it was very striking bird primarily black and white.

Kieran Suckling:

Sleek body with these white stripes starting on the shoulder,

Kieran Suckling:

they would come down like racing stripes and then back towards.

Kieran Suckling:

a white, lower tail.

Kieran Suckling:

So, very dramatic looking and then, for the males the whole thing

Kieran Suckling:

you know, colored in red, so this black, white, and red creature,

Kieran Suckling:

very prominent, very striking.

Ben Gilsdorf:

They lived in a different part of the country.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So they lived in the American Southeast by and large and old growth Cypress forest.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Probably Southern Illinois down south, stopping in about as far west as Texas,

Ben Gilsdorf:

maybe Dallas, all the way over to Florida.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And they lived in swamps.

Ben Gilsdorf:

They were swamp birds, cypress swamp birds.

Kieran Suckling:

It occurred in a coastal forest and the Southeast

Kieran Suckling:

and Texas up to North Carolina, a lot of it's swampy areas.

Kieran Suckling:

So a lot of times people came across them, you'd be in a swamp area, in a boat.

Kieran Suckling:

And then you would just hear this, like pounding, pounding, pounding

Kieran Suckling:

noise, of it hitting a tree long before you saw it, you know, and then you'd

Kieran Suckling:

come out and see this enormous bird.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, and it was so striking that, uh, you know, some of the early names

Kieran Suckling:

for it were, were the "lord bird", or even just "the lord god" was a name

Kieran Suckling:

for, for it because it just seemed so powerful and amazing creature.

Kieran Suckling:

And it of course had a long, sharp beak, which like any wood pecker.

Kieran Suckling:

it would just pound its beak and its head into trees under the bark of

Kieran Suckling:

trees, and thereby digging out bugs.

Kieran Suckling:

they would eat from there, but also then excavating cavities where it

Kieran Suckling:

would live, which a lot of people don't realize like the amount of pressure

Kieran Suckling:

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.

Kieran Suckling:

And this bird is doing this thousands of times a day for its entire life.

Kieran Suckling:

And so, uh, that whole group of birds woodpeckers have developed

Kieran Suckling:

this, really unique, brain casing and brain placement in the head to, to

Kieran Suckling:

protect the brain from, from damage.

Kieran Suckling:

In fact, they've been studied, for use in the design of football helmets, to protect

Kieran Suckling:

football players because they also get huge, a massive concussion level pounding.

Kieran Suckling:

So it has been an attempt to sort of replicate that to protect humans.

Ben Gilsdorf:

They've been around forever.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Thomas Jefferson wrote a book about all the birds in North America

Ben Gilsdorf:

and he recorded the ivory-billed woodpecker as one of those birds.

Ben Gilsdorf:

When they've dug up Native American burial sites, they've found the

Ben Gilsdorf:

beaks of ivory-billed woodpeckers as sort of an important trading piece.

Ben Gilsdorf:

There's records of people eating them.

Ben Gilsdorf:

A hunter in West Virginia wrote in his notebook that he shot one

Ben Gilsdorf:

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

Ben Gilsdorf:

in, um, factory growth population, growth urbanization, and people wanted furniture.

Ben Gilsdorf:

They were getting nice apartments and houses and cities, and they

Ben Gilsdorf:

wanted to have furniture and the place to go was the American south.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And so big tracts of land and Louisiana.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, were logged.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And the logging destroyed the habitats of these birds.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So it wasn't really human predation.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It wasn't population pressure really from humans moving into their habitat.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It was the clear cutting of forest to turn into furniture.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And so from the 1860s through the 1930s, the population fell.

Ben Gilsdorf:

The ivory-billed woodpecker became really like the first public rallying cry for

Ben Gilsdorf:

conservation laws in the United States.

Ben Gilsdorf:

The Audubon society, it was like, "Hey, look, this bird is, you

Ben Gilsdorf:

know, you don't see them anymore.

Ben Gilsdorf:

They're really uncommon."

Ben Gilsdorf:

Louisiana had sort of the last few remaining examples of the bird and the

Ben Gilsdorf:

Audubon society tried to protect it.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It was really like their first big attempt to intervene in conservation matters.

Ben Gilsdorf:

There was a plot of land owned by the Singer company who made sewing machines.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And they said, "Hey, can we buy this off you?

Ben Gilsdorf:

We want to protect this bird."

Ben Gilsdorf:

And they said, "Nope."

Ben Gilsdorf:

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

Ben Gilsdorf:

happens all too often, people go out and shoot them because they were rare.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So you got to get one for your collection.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And so there was a state legislator from Louisiana who heard that

Ben Gilsdorf:

there was one in his district.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So he went back home, found it, shot it, stuffed it, put on his mantle piece.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So by the early forties, you've got your, really your last confirmed

Ben Gilsdorf:

sighting of these birds in North America.

Kieran Suckling:

It was last seen , in the U.S.

Kieran Suckling:

about 1844, uh, but it's one of those now that's been gone for a long time,

Kieran Suckling:

but has been subject of intense, debate and research and attempts to find it,

Kieran Suckling:

and tens of thousands of hours have been spent by people trying to find it.

Kieran Suckling:

And given that it's such a big bird, it's such a loud bird, it's one

Kieran Suckling:

you would think people would say, "Well, well, it must be gone, right?"

Kieran Suckling:

Because, it's not a cryptic species hiding under a shrub or something.

Ben Gilsdorf:

You've got decades of, "Well, I saw one, but I

Ben Gilsdorf:

didn't take a good photo."

Ben Gilsdorf:

And, "Oh, I heard one, but I can't tell, I didn't record it."

Ben Gilsdorf:

Or, you know, "Look at this grainy video I got!"

Ben Gilsdorf:

And you have ornithologists spending hours looking at whether the flight pattern

Ben Gilsdorf:

of the bird is that of the ivory-billed woodpecker or the pileated woodpecker,

Ben Gilsdorf:

and debates, and people rowing around in boats for years playing the bird's

Ben Gilsdorf:

call to try and get it to respond.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Someone will submit a photo and they'll be four or five papers in the academic

Ben Gilsdorf:

journal about whether it was real or not.

Kieran Suckling:

So it's a species that logically.

Kieran Suckling:

We could've given up on a long time ago and said, it's gone.

Kieran Suckling:

How could it not be there?

Ben Gilsdorf:

I think that lore has like really pushed the bird's popularity,

Ben Gilsdorf:

even though it's been 70 something years since it last confirmed 80 something

Ben Gilsdorf:

years, I think since the last confirmed sighting, the bird is like still regarded

Ben Gilsdorf:

as something that is super, super, um, I don't know, like it has this draw, and

Ben Gilsdorf:

that there's a Cuban version of the bread.

Ben Gilsdorf:

The Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker that has also gone extinct over the last

Ben Gilsdorf:

recorded setting was in the eighties.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So there's a lot of like, "Well, if the Cuban one's out there,

Ben Gilsdorf:

maybe the American one's out there.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Can you really tell the difference?

Ben Gilsdorf:

Maybe they migrated to Cuba."

Kieran Suckling:

So it's a species that, logically, we could've given up

Kieran Suckling:

on a long time ago and said, it's gone.

Kieran Suckling:

How could it not be there?

Ben Gilsdorf:

And this year it came to a head because.

Ben Gilsdorf:

The Fish and Wildlife Service moved it off the endangered species list and

Ben Gilsdorf:

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

Ben Gilsdorf:

although that was a tough blow, who believe that it's out there somewhere,

Ben Gilsdorf:

hiding in a dark corner of Missouri.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I think that that lore has really helped the cause.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I think there's every year, uh, a festival in like Arkansas and Missouri

Ben Gilsdorf:

people descend on this one town and they all go look for the bird and

Ben Gilsdorf:

they sell like commemorative stickers and license plates and everything.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It's I just think it's so, so cool that everyone is really

Ben Gilsdorf:

gunning for this woodpecker.

Ben Gilsdorf:

That's the size of a loaf of bread.

Kieran Suckling:

We've continued to hold out hope and I think it's precisely

Kieran Suckling:

because it is such an impressive bird, such an amazing other earthling

Kieran Suckling:

that we just don't want to let it go.

Kieran Suckling:

You know, we don't want it to have slipped away and especially slipped

Kieran Suckling:

away while we're here, you know?

Kieran Suckling:

Cause we're not talking about an ancient extinction.

Kieran Suckling:

Consequently, today.

Kieran Suckling:

Uh, you know, some people will call it "the holy grail" or "the holy

Kieran Suckling:

grail bird" is another name for it.

Kieran Suckling:

Uh which again is fascinating, right?

Kieran Suckling:

Because you think of the Europeans searching the world

Kieran Suckling:

for the holy grail and for real.

Kieran Suckling:

You know, for real doing this, uh, and endless stories about the uh,

Kieran Suckling:

holy grail, indeed going back to 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

Kieran Suckling:

god bird", then when it goes missing, we call it the holy grail bird, it's

Kieran Suckling:

completely tied up in our sense of what is sacred and our human need to just

Kieran Suckling:

not let go and, and to find this thing.

Kieran Suckling:

So it 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.

Kieran Suckling:

There was a sighting, which almost certainly was not, the ivoery-billed

Kieran Suckling:

woodpecker about a decade ago, which spurred intense work to find it and

Kieran Suckling:

the spending of millions of dollars to protect the land around it.

Kieran Suckling:

Which is well done.

Kieran Suckling:

I don't think it helps the ivory-billed woodpecker, it certainly will

Kieran Suckling:

protect many other species and prevent them from going extinct.

Lucas:

That announcement happened while I was doing interviews for this project.

Lucas:

I'd finished the writing and we were just working on illustration

Lucas:

to get the preview together.

Lucas:

And then that announcement happened and like everything changed.

Lucas:

Where were you when you heard the news?

Kieran Suckling:

Oh, I got, you know, I, I was here in Portland.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, and when that came out, it, it was, yeah, it was really, it was devastating.

Kieran Suckling:

It's one of these things where, you know, it's coming, it's completely logical.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, But then when it happens, you just, you still can't, uh, believe it, you

Kieran Suckling:

know, uh, and having to, except that yeah.

Kieran Suckling:

You know, this is, this is over it's time to a time to move on, you know?

Kieran Suckling:

Um, and that we can't fix this one.

Kieran Suckling:

It's over It's uh, and that something just so important has, has just gone

Kieran Suckling:

from the world, you know, it's, um, world is not, not what it was and,

Kieran Suckling:

and it probably is not what it was for a long time, but we were holding

Kieran Suckling:

out hope that it, it could be.

Kieran Suckling:

We did a memorial service here at the Center for, for all of them.

Kieran Suckling:

And everyone, you know, came on, came on Zoom and we looked at pictures of

Kieran Suckling:

them all and heard stories about them.

Kieran Suckling:

And we just felt it was important to, to have a memorial to note their

Kieran Suckling:

passing and, and, and take a moment to respect them, appreciate them and

Kieran Suckling:

realize that in fact, they are gone.

Lucas:

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

Ben Gilsdorf:

Yeah.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I was sitting at home when the news came out and I remember I have a friend who's

Ben Gilsdorf:

a journalist at Forbes and she thought it was so funny throughout college

Ben Gilsdorf:

that I was obsessed with this bird and never really believed me that there

Ben Gilsdorf:

was like this much larger, I don't want to say conspiracy, but like obsession

Ben Gilsdorf:

with the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And so she said, "Oh my gosh, did you see the news?"

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I said, "Yeah, like, let me tag you in some of the Facebook posts in like

Ben Gilsdorf:

the groups I'm in for birdwatchers who are like outraged at this decision."

Ben Gilsdorf:

Um, And she was like, "Wow, I didn't realize that this

Ben Gilsdorf:

had this big of a following."

Ben Gilsdorf:

I'm like," Oh yeah.

Ben Gilsdorf:

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.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I think the, the generic response this time around was like, some

Ben Gilsdorf:

people were like, "Ah, you know, there's the nail in the coffin."

Ben Gilsdorf:

But a lot of people like,"No, no, no, like we don't know that.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Like it's still out there."

Ben Gilsdorf:

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.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I dunno, like part of me lives, like I want, I want to

Ben Gilsdorf:

go be the one who finds it.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Like, I've always dreamed of like, you know, taking a trip to Arkansas

Ben Gilsdorf:

and bushwhacking and seeing one and taking the crystal photo that

Ben Gilsdorf:

proves they're still out there.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So I don't know.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I like, it felt kind of like a, losing a childhood dream a little bit.

Lucas:

It's become much more important to me, the longer I've gotten into

Lucas:

this project that I give people somewhere to go from here, from

Lucas:

this moment, from this feeling.

Lucas:

Part of it is, talking of a memorial, is giving these species somewhere

Lucas:

else to live and some other way to tell their stories, in a way

Lucas:

that we wouldn't have otherwise.

Lucas:

That's why I'm writing book of exchange.

Lucas:

Because I want these stories to live on through telling and retelling

Lucas:

at gaming tables worldwide.

Lucas:

I'm turning these animals into monsters for Dungeons and dragons.

Lucas:

The first three monsters are out now and they are my gift to you.

Lucas:

Just go to scintilla.studio/extinction, or follow the link in the show notes to

Lucas:

download the preview from the major hand press website, it includes the thylacine,

Lucas:

the great arch and the passenger pigeon covered in previous episodes with stat

Lucas:

blocks for both the real world animal and the monstrous version fit for the

Lucas:

fantasy world of Dungeons Dragons When you download the preview, you'll find

Lucas:

an option to pay what you want for it.

Lucas:

And any money you give through there will be donated to conservation organizations,

Lucas:

working to preserve endangered species, habitat and biodiversity.

Lucas:

The ivory billed woodpecker is the first animal on this podcast not

Lucas:

already released in the preview at the time of recording these interviews, I

Lucas:

hadn't written it, which meant I got the chance to ask a qualified experts,

Lucas:

what they would do with the ivory billed woodpecker in a fantasy setting.

Lucas:

What would you do with it?

Ben Gilsdorf:

Yeah, I would like, I I'm envisioning like a woodland scene, right?

Ben Gilsdorf:

Like, you know, like some, some like magical forest, but I

Ben Gilsdorf:

think like an easy way to build.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And maybe this is like, whatever it says, but like I'm imagining it

Ben Gilsdorf:

having some sort of desired trait, whether it's knowledge or something.

Ben Gilsdorf:

But also it has the ability to sort of become invisible, like the bird itself,

Ben Gilsdorf:

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

Ben Gilsdorf:

the information about the location of something or some tool.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And of course the only animal that has it is this magical ivory-billed woodpecker.

Ben Gilsdorf:

That one second, you see it, the next second is completely disappeared.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It's elusive.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It has what you want.

Ben Gilsdorf:

People are drawn to it, but when you need to find it in the

Ben Gilsdorf:

deep thick woods, it's gone.

Lucas:

If you had to write the ivory-billed woodpecker for a fantasy

Lucas:

game, what would you do with it?

Kieran Suckling:

no, that is really interesting.

Kieran Suckling:

Well, what do I do again?

Kieran Suckling:

The thing I would do with it, I would play with this idea, almost dragon light.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, and what do you mean by that would be this, this creature that see very often.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, but you hear it, you know, you hear that sound and you know, it's

Kieran Suckling:

out, that's kind of ominous, right.

Kieran Suckling:

You're out and you're out in the swamps and there's like pounding,

Kieran Suckling:

pounding don't, you know, on the trees, maybe it's coming closer or

Kieran Suckling:

maybe you're coming closer to it.

Kieran Suckling:

Right.

Kieran Suckling:

You're coming into its lair, I guess.

Kieran Suckling:

That's what I'm thinking of here.

Kieran Suckling:

It's like, you're out there in the boat.

Kieran Suckling:

You hear that noise and you're, you're approaching it.

Kieran Suckling:

Right.

Kieran Suckling:

But you don't see it yet.

Kieran Suckling:

But, you know, it's out there and you're looking for sure.

Kieran Suckling:

You don't, you're not just sort of wander aimlessly out there, like

Kieran Suckling:

you're looking cause you hear it and it's densely wooded and dark and wet.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, and then just all of a sudden this big creature just comes

Kieran Suckling:

starring in, on these huge wings.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, it, it would be scary.

Kieran Suckling:

It makes me think of what it would be like to like, you know, suddenly

Kieran Suckling:

hear this noise, hear this roar, and then fracking comes flying out

Kieran Suckling:

behind this mountain, you know?

Kieran Suckling:

And you're like, well, yeah, I heard of this.

Kieran Suckling:

There it is.

Kieran Suckling:

You know, um, it's got that, um, that kind of power.

Kieran Suckling:

And so it's always, you know, before it was extinct, uh, it was,

Kieran Suckling:

it was not rare, but it was hard to find because it was in such.

Kieran Suckling:

Dense for boating habitat people aren't out wandering around the swamps that much.

Kieran Suckling:

Right.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, so it was always a mysterious creature that would then suddenly appear.

Kieran Suckling:

And it's, I think something playing with that, with that notion and, and, um,

Kieran Suckling:

and you would have to come to it, right?

Kieran Suckling:

It's not coming to you.

Kieran Suckling:

It's not showing up in your backyard.

Kieran Suckling:

Right.

Kieran Suckling:

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

Kieran Suckling:

this one is this notion of the, the holy grail in there, and this, this

Kieran Suckling:

intensive search has gone on for so long.

Kieran Suckling:

That's the holy grail, all the stories about it, in our culture.

Kieran Suckling:

Well, there are adventure stories, right?

Kieran Suckling:

Cause it's not like, oh, you went out and got the ground.

Kieran Suckling:

The ground is the reason you go and then various adventures happen and you see

Kieran Suckling:

this and you see that and your attack and there's wars and prisons, and you find

Kieran Suckling:

a magic, fountain and all of that step.

Kieran Suckling:

So it's the adventure that happens when you're looking for.

Kieran Suckling:

And so many want to find it.

Kieran Suckling:

And so that's, what's happened with this one even before it was, extincted searches

Kieran Suckling:

through difficult to reign this case, these swampy for us to find this bird.

Kieran Suckling:

And to think that when you find it, something will happen, but

Kieran Suckling:

what, you know, what is it now?

Kieran Suckling:

What will happen if you find the holy grail?

Kieran Suckling:

I don't know.

Kieran Suckling:

I'm not sure anyone knew, but they knew they had to write

Kieran Suckling:

something was going to happen.

Kieran Suckling:

When, what would happen if you found the ivory-billed Um, I don't think anyone

Kieran Suckling:

knew, but they knew it would be something because it was such a remarkable creature.

Lucas:

We'll call our ivory-billed D&D monster the Questing Bird, after

Lucas:

the questing beast of Arthurian legend and, like the questing

Lucas:

beast, it's a story of hope.

Lucas:

First off, the basics.

Lucas:

We know from the fossil record and the end of megafauna that animals tend to

Lucas:

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

Lucas:

regular birds in the game and occupying the same space on the board as

Lucas:

some of the smaller races of player characters in Dungeons & Dragons.

Lucas:

Creatures with the beast type cannot use magic.

Lucas:

They interact with the world in strictly physical ways.

Lucas:

The Arthurian questing beast is a classic D&D monstrosity described as being

Lucas:

bits of other animals put together.

Lucas:

Our questing bird, the "Lord God bird," "the holy grail," is

Lucas:

better described as a celestial.

Lucas:

In so far as alignment is a useful concept for describing creatures in D&D,

Lucas:

I would write this one as lawful good.

Lucas:

And now we just need some actions.

Lucas:

So I think there are two important traits here.

Lucas:

First, the ability to enthrall, causing disadvantage on perception

Lucas:

checks made to perceive any creature other than the questing bird itself.

Lucas:

To seek the bird is to lay other pursuits aside.

Lucas:

And second, its ability to grant a magical boon or a gift.

Lucas:

We'll rely on D&D's schools of magic here and give it the ability to cast

Lucas:

divination spells of sixth level or lower.

Lucas:

If you find the questing bird, you will learn truth.

Lucas:

My guests on this episode are Ben Gilsdorf, amateur ornithologist,

Lucas:

and Kieran Suckling, founder, and Executive Director of the

Lucas:

Center for Biological Diversity.

Lucas:

If people are listening to this and they want to get involved with

Lucas:

your organization and the work that you're doing, how can they do that?

Kieran Suckling:

Well, uh, the best way is to, uh, to come on our web

Kieran Suckling:

page, www biological diversity.org, and, uh, sign up to become a volunteer

Kieran Suckling:

or to get our, action alerts where you can just do stuff online.

Kieran Suckling:

There's lots of ways to, to plug in and lots of good work to be done.

Kieran Suckling:

Due to the U.S.

Kieran Suckling:

having a very, very strong environmental laws, especially Endangered Species

Kieran Suckling:

Act, and a very, very long history of conservation, we're actually very,

Kieran Suckling:

very successful at stopping extinction and very successful at bringing

Kieran Suckling:

species who are near, then I add of extinction back and recovering them.

Kieran Suckling:

It's pretty clear that when we put our minds to it collectively as,

Kieran Suckling:

as a culture, we can save these species and, and we do it a lot.

Kieran Suckling:

We do it all all the time.

Kieran Suckling:

So, so this is definitely an area where you can be effective.

Kieran Suckling:

You can join with many, many of them.

Kieran Suckling:

People doing this work, all over the country.

Kieran Suckling:

Whenever I'm dealing with any endangered species, you always find out there's some

Kieran Suckling:

guy there, or some grandmother, there are so much, they've just adopted this

Kieran Suckling:

species and they've made it their life's mission to save it and, and they succeed.

Kieran Suckling:

They, they do it.

Kieran Suckling:

And honestly, it's, it's super fun.

Kieran Suckling:

Um, because we're out there learning about these species all the time and

Kieran Suckling:

interacting with them, and getting to know more about this planet.

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

Ben Gilsdorf:

Audubon's Christmas bird count.

Ben Gilsdorf:

The easiest way to know what birds there are and there aren't is if

Ben Gilsdorf:

people count how many birds they see.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So you can just get your phone out, Google Audubon, Christmas bird count.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And essentially what you do is you go and you just look at birds,

Ben Gilsdorf:

you write down what you see, you submit it to the Audubon.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And obviously it's not perfect.

Ben Gilsdorf:

You know, it's not the census that goes to everyone's door and you know,

Ben Gilsdorf:

it doesn't knock on every tree in the forest, but it's really important.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I mean, it's so there's so many birds.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It's very hard to know how many there are, but this is a good way to sort

Ben Gilsdorf:

of understand what birds are people seeing in what parts of the country.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And if you care about extinction, the only way to know a bird is extinct is if

Ben Gilsdorf:

there's no record of seeing it, and you you have to have a record that you did

Ben Gilsdorf:

see it to know that you don't see it.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And so I think everyone should get your phone out, look up Christmas, bird count.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I always do it every year.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I think it's a fun way to get involved, especially when you're

Ben Gilsdorf:

thinking sort of cataclysmically about like extinction, like why don't

Ben Gilsdorf:

you go out and do something that, that plays into that in a good way.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So that's my one thing I want to plug.

Ben Gilsdorf:

The Christmas bird count.

Ben Gilsdorf:

That's that's your civic duty.

Ben Gilsdorf:

That and voting.

Lucas:

The Christmas bird count takes place between December 14th

Lucas:

and January 5th, and many organizers are still looking for volunteers.

Lucas:

Even if you've never been birdwatching before, you can be paired with an

Lucas:

experienced birder, so you can learn more and be a part of the effort.

Lucas:

I'll be taking part in the Christmas bird count this year.

Lucas:

And while the podcast will be on hiatus until January, I hope to bring

Lucas:

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 action

Lucas:

in the fight against extinction.

Lucas:

First, share this story or this podcast with the people who play games

Lucas:

with you, just telling people these animals existed and what they represent

Lucas:

begins to reverse the sliding scale of decreasing biodiversity by helping

Lucas:

people realize what we've already lost.

Lucas:

Second, donate to conservation through Book of Extinction.

Lucas:

Go to scintilla.studio/extinction, or follow the link in the

Lucas:

show notes to download the preview of Book of Extinction.

Lucas:

You can pay what you want for it, and whatever you pay will

Lucas:

be donated to conservation efforts to preserve endangered

Lucas:

species habitat and biodiversity.

Lucas:

I'm currently meeting with conservation organizations to select

Lucas:

a project and organize a grant.

Lucas:

And you can follow this podcast or join my email list to get

Lucas:

the details as they are finally.

Lucas:

We're not keeping any of the money raised through the preview.

Lucas:

We just want the chance to tell you about Book of Extinction when

Lucas:

it comes to Kickstarter in 2022.

Lucas:

The full book will include animals like the Carolina parakeet, Yangtze

Lucas:

river dolphin, giant moa, and yes, the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Lucas:

If you want to get your hands on that stat block that we built in this episode

Lucas:

within the next month, you can join the Mage Hand Press Patreon, where we

Lucas:

are releasing these animals as they're written for play testing and feedback.

Lucas:

And we'd love to have you as part of that community.

Lucas:

Link is again in the show notes.

Lucas:

So thank you for listening to Making a Monster.

Lucas:

It's been a real pleasure walking through 2021 with you.

Lucas:

And I will see you in January.

Lucas:

Before I go, here's a birdwatching story from Ben that gave me the

Lucas:

courage to brave December weather.

Ben Gilsdorf:

People have these collections that go back forever coins

Ben Gilsdorf:

and it's kind of like collecting and that you collect that you've seen it.

Ben Gilsdorf:

But you let the birds be free.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I think there's something kind of nice about that.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Like it's collecting memories and, and every bird I, I see, I write down the

Ben Gilsdorf:

year on the state, I saw it in, um, and I'll go back and I'll remember like,

Ben Gilsdorf:

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

Ben Gilsdorf:

out with this guy who was like 60.

Ben Gilsdorf:

We woke up at four in the morning.

Ben Gilsdorf:

We drove to this mountain in northern New Mexico that has all

Ben Gilsdorf:

three species of roseate finch.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Um, and we like saw them as the sun rose over the San DIA crest.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It was like, I was like falling asleep in the car.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I probably ate like 30 Krispy Kreme donuts that day.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I was just crazy.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I'm like, there, they are like these birds, like there's one spot.

Ben Gilsdorf:

They all have three different habitats that converge on one.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I was on that mountain and got to see all three of them at the

Ben Gilsdorf:

same time, like that experience.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And like the fact that it's like one, three lines on the lifeless, like check,

Ben Gilsdorf:

check, check for the story was so cool.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I don't know, there's something like kind of Valiant about putting

Ben Gilsdorf:

in all this work to see these birds.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I think like, you know, when I talked to other birdwatchers,

Ben Gilsdorf:

like, oh, that's awesome.

Ben Gilsdorf:

You did that.

Ben Gilsdorf:

My grandma was floored that I got in to do that.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And for most people it doesn't matter.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Birdwatching is crazy cool.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Like you can honor the 80 year old extinct bird and you know, the odds

Ben Gilsdorf:

are very, very low that I ever will.

Ben Gilsdorf:

But something about the, like the thrill of the chase without

Ben Gilsdorf:

any negative side effects, right?

Ben Gilsdorf:

Like you don't have to kill anything.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Everything still happens.

Ben Gilsdorf:

You just get to observe nature unfolding.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I think that's really cool.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Yeah.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I think during COVID it was almost more cool because so many

Ben Gilsdorf:

people weren't going out as much.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And a lot of people noticed like, oh, you know, nature's healing.

Ben Gilsdorf:

The birds are singing in the morning.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Again.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It's like, well, the birds have always been there.

Ben Gilsdorf:

You're just noticing them for the first time.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And I hope that maybe for some people that really sparked like an awareness

Ben Gilsdorf:

of like the natural world around them and a curiosity to engage with it,

Ben Gilsdorf:

um, because birdwatching is really.

Ben Gilsdorf:

It's I dunno.

Ben Gilsdorf:

I just, I think it's just the greatest and I hope more young people get into it.

Ben Gilsdorf:

And then how do I find the podcast?

Ben Gilsdorf:

It's everywhere podcasts.

Ben Gilsdorf:

worked very hard to it on every possible podcast platform I find.

Ben Gilsdorf:

So if you look for Making a Monster, it'll all be tagged

Ben Gilsdorf:

extinction and then the species name.

Ben Gilsdorf:

Yeah, that's me

Ben Gilsdorf:

added.