Historic Markers Across Alabama

Missing Pieces

Marker ID:  
Location: in the Cahawba Archaeological Park (nominal fee required), 9518 Cahaba Rd, Orrville, AL
County: Dallas
Coordinates: N 32° 19.166    W 087° 6.277
  32.31943333    -87.10461666
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: None


Missing Pieces

"We by-and-by discovered...a pair of those splendid birds, the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (Picus principalis). They were engaged in rapping some tall dead pines, in a dense part of the forest, which rang with their loud notes."
—Philip Henry Gosse, British naturalist, who recorded his observations of Dallas County in 1838.

Exploring an abandoned settlement, like the one here at Old Cahawba, evokes an inescapable sense of loss. Humans aren't the only community members missing from this landscape. Some of Old Cahawba's most stunning wild inhabitants are gone as well, driven toward extinction by settlement activities.

When settlers moved into Alabama's Black Belt in the early 1800s, the ivory-billed woodpecker's brilliant crimson crest and black-and-white plumage brightened old-growth bottomland hardwood forests. Chattering flocks of Carolina parakeets swept through the canebrakes, and the high, buzzy trill of Bachman's warblers pierced the forest canopy. These sights and sounds no longer grace Old Cahawba's landscape.

Protecting Alabama's Wildlife
The Alabama State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) identifies 28 of the state's more than 350 native bird species as 'species of greatest conservation need." It details a plan to prevent further decline of these vulnerable species by protecting the habitats they depend upon. At Old Cahawba, the Alabama Historical Commission is using the SWAP to combine preservation and conservation. Alabama landowners can use this plan to help protect not only birds, but scores of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, fish, and invertebrates.

Carolina Parakeet
"...the Parakeets are destroyed in great numbers, for whilst busily engaged in plucking off the fruits or tearing the grain from the stacks, the husbandman approaches them with perfect ease, and commits great slaughter among them." — John James Audubon, 1840.
Flocks of Carolina parakeets—this country's only native parrot—once roosted together in tree cavities at night and searched out fruits and seeds by day. Their droppings spread seeds throughout the bottomland forests, significantly altering the tree species that grew there. The bright-colored birds devoured settlers' crops, a habit that led to their extinction by 1920.

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
This largest of North American woodpeckers—20 inches from head to tail—once inhabited bottomland hardwood forests from Texas to North Carolina. In dead and dying trees, it hammered deep holes to excavate beetle larvae and to nest and roost. Big excavators need big trees, and the species' decline mirrored the clearing of old-growth southeastern forests. Researchers sparked hope in 2005 with reports that the "Holy Grail Bird," believed extinct, may still inhabit remote woods in Arkansas and Florida.

Bachman's Warbler
Though Bachman's warblers nested near the ground, dense thickets of cane, palmetto, shrubs, and vines concealed their broods from predators. Canebrakes once overspread the margins between river and land around Old Cahawba and throughout southeastern river ways. Scientists hold out hope that Bachman's warblers may still inhabit remote pockets of their former range. Though no breeding pairs have been recorded in the U.S. since the 1960s, scientists have made several recent sightings in the bird's Cuban wintering grounds.

2013 by the Alabama Black Belt Nature & Heritage Trail.

Photographs of the marker can be found on HMDB.org

End of Missing Pieces