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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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Friday, September 23, 2005


The Iconic Ivory-bill

In a recent letter to Science Magazine (Sept. 16, 2005, Vol. 309) anthropologist Alex Barker notes the widespread use of the Ivory-bill Woodpecker as an iconic and ceremonial item for various Native American tribes early on (including tribes outside the known range of the species). He points out one Indian pipe artifact that "used seven male ivory-bill heads as decoration," and also mentions that the bird was often rendered in prehistoric artistic depictions. Barker's point seems to be that the species may have had a far greater familiarity or commonness for early Americans than is often implied in the literature; however, I think the more important implication is just how sought-after this species was even in early America (even before the impact of loggers and habitat destruction set in). And as the bird became rarer and rarer, ironically, it was even more victimized by hunters/collectors desiring a specimen for themselves or their clients before it was gone. All of this simply reiterates my earlier notion that the impact of hunting (for food, commercial, and decorative/ceremonial purposes) on the species could be far greater than the literature acknowledges, such that law changes by the 1930s outlawing taking of the bird may have given it just the needed breathing room to stage a comeback and be with us today.

Yes, it seems IBWO's have been hunted heavily since Native Americans came to North America, 12,000 to 18,000 years ago. This is why I do not buy the theory that they only recently learned to be much more silent and wary being put forth by some on the Cornell team. (I believe it was in an article by Gallagher in the September, 2005 issue of Natural History.) There has been hunting pressure on them for millenia, and they have been wary of humans, yet individuals found in the 1920's and 1930's were vocal and fairly easy to find. I know, this has all been hashed over before--I'm not trying to stir it up again, but that theory has always seemed like nonsense to me.
Actually, I think it makes perfect sense that any Ivory-bills remaining today would indeed be descendents of the wariest individuals from the past -- natural selection right at work! (For one thing IBWOs may have been more accustomed to the presence of people back in a day when humans routinely lived in or visited the deep woods, but as time passed the ONLY folks making it into that territory were largely blast-producing hunters or noisy loggers).
Moreover, other adaptations (of diet, habitat preferences, and behaviors) might also have transpired such that any conclusions reached by Tanner in the 30's simply may not be generalizable to birds remaining today.
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