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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.

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

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

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005


- hmmm... Where To Look For Ivory-bills -

Sometimes I tell folks, only half-tongue-in-cheek, that the best place to look for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers is not deep in bottomland forest, where the bird has ALL the advantages, and humans are stumblebums, but from a car parked on the side of the road or highway outside such woods. In 1986 John Terres, the very credible writer/birder and past Pres. of Audubon, reported having seen two Ivory-bills fly in front of his windshield while driving on a Florida highway back in 1955. He knew no good that could result from reporting it, and waited 31 years to give his account. Over the years others too have reported spotting Ivory-bills from roadways or other open-area locales, where the view was unimpeded.
If Ivory-bills are still around today, it is because juveniles and others have dispersed out of certain areas (not large enough to hold more than a few IBWOs),
with some regularity, and successfully found new suitable habitat. Dispersion offers one of the best opportunities for a good look at an IBWO, if one could only be in the right place at the right moment.
The simple point I wish to make is that sightings of Ivory-bills from highways or otherwise open areas ought to be taken and studied very seriously, and not summarily dismissed, while the frequent failure of seekers to sight Ivory-bills during forays into the swamp is to be fully expected, given a forest denizen who has likely learned that survivorship is a function of human-avoidance.

As far as anyone knows, no human has harmed an ivory-bill in over 60 years. I'm sure you're aware that unhunted populations of animals that are normally wary (elk and bears in Yellowstone, for example) soon become almost "tame."

Ivory-bills were successfully hunted by Native Americans, collectors, and others. Since there are photos of some of the last known surviving ivory-bills perching on people's arms and heads, it seems a bit of a reach to believe that every last ivory-bill has become incredibly wary including several generations that have never been hunted.

Remember the automatic cameras set up at feeding sites? They got photos, of Pileated Woodpeckers. Did the IBs avoid those? Those feeding sites would have, presumably, been presented as powerful evidence if the photos hadn't shown it was the work of Piliateds.
I had an amusing biographical realization related to the IBWO. This article in Birder's World lists IBWO sighting reports since 1944. One, in particular, gave me pause:

17. Loxahatchee River in Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Florida, April 1985 Observer: Dennis G. Garratt. Notable: He watched the bird from 25 to 40 feet away for about 15 minutes.

I actually visited that park in December, 1984 and birded the trails. I went on a long boat ride with my father up the river. I noted a large number of dead Baldcypress trees--probably killed by salt water intrusion. Hmm. Those would perhaps, have been infested with beetles, making a tempting snack for woodpeckers of all sorts.

Now I don't give that sighting any particular weight, it is not listed on the Birds of North America site for sightings, for instance, and I don't think it is in the historical range of the bird, as is shown on various maps. However, I can't help but think how close I perhaps came to a sighting--or a non-sighting. I did have my camera on that trip, as I took photos of a very cooperative Gopher Tortoise. Ah well, an amusing coincidence.
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