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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.

Web ivorybills.blogspot.com

"....The truth is out there."

-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

Friday, August 12, 2005


-- Book Reviews --

A few folks have inquired about book recommendations on the Ivory-bill. So here's 1-man's opinion:
There are at least 4 readily available volumes on the IBWO out right now: Jerome Jackson's "In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker," Tim Gallagher's "The Grail Bird...," Phillip Hoose's "The Race to Save the Lord God Bird," and Dover's re-publication of James Tanner's 1942 dissertation "The Ivory-billed Woodpecker." I LIKE them ALL!
If I could only own one volume though, it would be Jackson's. In spite of his recently-expressed skepticism toward the Arkansas evidence, no high level academic has more persistently and convincingly voiced the arguments for the Ivory-bill's continued presence over the decades than Dr. Jackson. Indeed, he alone is responsible for keeping the bird off the Government's official extinct-species list. His book is the most comprehensive and complete in many ways... BUT DOES NOT include the most recent Arkansas findings. And the writing style may be too dry and academic for many tastes.
Phillip Hoose's volume is a more engaging, fun read than Jackson's; not as complete but still with much wonderful information, sidebars, and pictures. Again, it came out prior to the latest Arkansas news. I suspect both Jackson's and Hoose's volumes will be re-issued at some point with an additional chapter to cover the most recent events.
If you want to hear about the Arkansas findings, than Tim Gallagher's book is your only choice; it is a quick, adventurous read, not as historically comprehensive as Jackson and Hoose, but decent, if less objective, in it's coverage, and probably somewhat rushed into print.
Finally, even 60 years after it's original writing, I think James Tanner's dissertation work is one of the best pieces of natural history research and writing ever!... BUT it is what it is... a study of a handful of Ivory-bills at a given place in a given time, not a truly comprehensive exploration of the species across time and place (though he did travel across the South trying to gather information as possible). I always enjoy the tentative, hesitant, qualified manner in which Tanner's thesis is composed, with true grad-student humility. It was only years later, as he became the focus of so much adulation and attention, that the statements of he and his fellow Singer Tract sighters took on a more absolutist ring, and an almost obstructionist tone toward other searchers.
In short, if you want to learn the most, and even contemplate searching for the Ivory-bill yourself, get Jackson's book. If you want a good, inspiring home-read, still with solid historical info, get Hoose's. If you're primarily just interested in the most recent events pick up Gallagher's. And if you don't mind dissertation-style writing and want to see where today's hubbub over the IBWO really originates from, read Tanner.
Christopher Cokinos also included a fine chapter on the IBWO in his book of some years ago, "Hope Is the Thing With Feathers." And almost certainly there will be additional excellent volumes out in the next year or two on this bird. Julie Zickefoose has written wonderful articles in the past on the Ivory-bill and were she by any chance to do a book-length volume (I have no inside information) on the bird I would recommend it sight-unseen.

I have all four of the books you mention, and agree that Jackson's is the most comprehensive. It is curious that Jackson was apparently not part of the team in Arkansas.

The photo of the flying IBWO on the inside covers of the Hoose book is dramatic and eerie. What a wonderful creature!

I also think you are very perceptive in your thoughts on Tanner, and possibly his attitude in his later years. To me, he is somewhat of a sacred cow in all this IBWO business. He shot down the Dennis sighting of an IBWO in the Big Thicket with apparently only a cursory visit to the area. I suspect Dennis was on birds, and got a bum rap. Gallagher has some interesting thoughts about this matter in his book.

Sad but true, I think ego plays a role with a lot of these guys, past and present. It should not be about them, it should be about the bird.

Sorry if I get too wordy. You are presenting some interesting thoughts here.
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