Caught by the River

Matt's Bird of the Week – Stephen's Island Wren

Matt Sewell | 18th May 2011

It’s a very special ‘Bird of the Week’ this week. Matt chose the Stephen’s Island Wren from the extinction list given to him by Ceri Levy when requesting his participation in the ‘Ghosts of Gone Birds’ exhibition. This watercolour stands at 50cm x 70 cm and can be viewed at the ‘Ghosts..’ exhibition at the Liverpool School of Art & Design, this Thursday and Friday.

Xenicus lyalli. Words & picture by Matt Sewell.

Before the late 1800’s a handful of flightless wrens had enjoyed a peaceful, predator free life on a tiny island off New Zealand, singing their songs to the sea for hundreds of years. One of only a few known flightless songbirds in the world and found only on this tiny isle, their whole family would be tragically wiped from Earth by a deadly predator know as Tiddles.

Sadly as with most stories of extinction, the story begins with man arriving at the island, or should I really say the British arriving and building a big old lighthouse. As tradition holds every lighthouse keeper has a cat for companionship and, of course, for the rats. Sadly, Tiddles, the Stephens Island Lighthouse cat ,had arrived and consigned his place in history.

Unaware of the changing times the tiny green wrens just simply didn’t have time to evolve wings and flight and went about there business scampering around the undergrowth as if nothing had changed. Unfortunately this moggy certainly took his job very seriously and within a few months all of the poor little wrens had been pounced upon, extinguished and left outside the lighthouse door.
What can you say really, its just so tragic, a whole species snuffed out in a blink of an eye… Bloody cats! I know why i have always been a dog person now.

Matt Sewell bird badges are now on sale in the Caught by the River shop.

Click here to see previous birds of the week.