.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

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

Sunday, October 30, 2005


-- The Imperial Woodpecker --

In a prior "comment" Patrick Coin has referred folks to the following sites regarding the possible survival of the Imperial Woodpecker (the IBWO's Mexican cousin), and of course by googling "Imperial Woodpecker" you can discover still more:


This all reminded me that when D. Kulivan claimed to spot 2 Ivory-bills in Pearl River, La. in April, 1999, I heard at least one individual speculate that maybe it was a case of mistaken identity and he actually saw Imperials -- apparently not realizing that this would be an even more incredible sighting (though Imperials had been observed more recently than Ivorybills, La. was totally outside their historical range).
Imperials are similar to Ivory-bills but significantly larger (by ~20%), and with a slightly different white pattern (possibly less dorsal and facial white, with possibly more white on the wings). But as one who doesn't like to summarily dismiss any possibility, consider this: the Ivory-bill is about 2-3 inches larger than a PIWO; I happen to think this is a significant amount and would be discernible in a quick glance by someone accustomed to seeing Pileateds, but others have argued that, at a distance, and with a brief look, that size differential could not be confidently registered. Yet, several of Cornell's sighters noted the sheer size of the bird they witnessed as being among the first fieldmarks that immediately jumped out at them, even with brief looks -- Is it possible that in the last half-century Imperials have moved slowly northward to escape the massive habitat destruction of their home range? Could remnants have dispersed into the American Southeast? -- no, I don't really believe that, but again I won't dismiss out-of-hand any possibility. Indeed, one of the things most troubling to me about the Luneau video is that to my eye the bird in question has always seemed TOO large and bearing TOO much wing-white even for an IBWO!

Addendum 11/7/05: here's yet another sighting of the Imperial reported to "Mexbirds" listserv from John Spencer in part as follows:

"Ron and Sarojam Makau are... avid bird watchers, who live near Cabo Pulmo, BCS. They are both professors at UC Riverside in the Biology Dept. They just got back from the Copper Canyon trip. They had some fantastic news … they are sure, absolutely sure, that the saw an Imperial Woodpecker (!) near Divisadero on the north rim of Copper Canyon. I questioned them closely, but they were sure, based on the description in Peterson...

They swear that they saw the female that has a very unusal reverse crest. They both are experienced birders and are biology professors at UC Riverside. They have birded all over the world and are really good birders. I believe their sighting.

They saw the bird about 30 ft up a pine tree, clinging to the trunk. They were about 50 to 60 feet away, with good light. They observed the bird for about 2 minutes, during that time the bird turned her head and the crest was seen at several angles, definitely matched the drawing in Peterson for the female. The bird flew off with slow heavy wingbeats. No sounds were heard. The sighting was about 0700 on the trail near the big hotel on the canyon rim.

I know that this is an unconfirmed and second-hand report, but I personally know the reporters and believe their sighting."



-- Latest Audubon Magazine Article --

The latest (Nov.) issue of Audubon Magazine includes an article discussing why the Pileated Woodpecker still thrives today while the Ivory-billed almost died out. It employs the same arguments used in the past (adaptability, diet, habitat needs) based, as all the literature is, on Tanner's work which, as I've argued before, could simply be wrong in some of its details, especially as applied to individual surviving birds instead of to the species as a whole.
The article does note that Pileateds too became rare during the 19th century but by the 1940s was making a comeback just as the Ivory-bill was being written off. The sheer original population of Pileateds, ranging over the entire east half of the US rather than just the Southeast,
may have been 100X greater than that of Ivory-bills, and easily account for its widespread survival today without resorting to any other differences. If say, 15,000 Ivory-bills were killed by hunters/collectors through the 19th century (that's just 3/week for the entire southeast) it may have decimated an already thin IBWO population, while the loss of 15,000 Pileateds may have been negligible long-term for that species.
Both the PIWO and IBWO resided in a forest plush with food -- to simply posit that the IBWO had specialized unmet dietary needs accounting for its downfall, while the PIWO (and ALL other birds of the forest) lacked such specialization is little more than a circular argument unless one can demonstrate actual physiological differences between the two species that account for such differences (some have tried to argue previously that bill size/shape differences resulted in differing needs, but this is not altogether convincing). Again, as written here previously, observations of IBWO behavior from the past can only indicate 'preferences' of those birds witnessed, and can not be assumed to be an accurate reflection of the biological survival 'needs' of the species which could be far more minimal -- I for one consume pizza and salad every week, yet in spite of any Tannerian-like conclusions one might reach, could still survive quite nicely if those choices were stripped away forever... and I don't even have wings to carry me far-and-wide in search of food.


Friday, October 28, 2005


-- Georgia Ivory-bill History --

One Sheila Willis has posted a very nice and interesting history of Ivory-bill sightings in the Okefenokee area of Georgia on the Ga. birding listserv available here:


Worth a read...


Thursday, October 27, 2005


-- In Need of a Laugh? --

If you're in need of a couple of chuckles and a guffaw check out this hot-off-the-blog-press report from a "Cornell Ivory-bill searcher":



-- Tree Scaling/Furrowing Study --

Paul Sykes and Steve Holzman are investigating tree scaling/furrowing as a sign of Ivory-bill presence and would like any assistance in studying such signs as described at:


Should you have any such data/info to share with Paul/Steve, I'm sure the folks at Cornell Lab would also be interested copies of the same.


- Picture It In Your Mind's Eye -

In about a week Cornell's winter search effort in the Arkansas Big Woods commences, focusing initially on a 20-kilometer radius around the locale of most prior sightings (Cache River NWR), and expanding outward along the Cache and White Rivers. Close to 20 full-time paid searchers are involved along with about 100 experienced volunteers who have signed on for two-week stints. Remote audio and video units will also be deployed in the most promising areas, and GPS units and aerial photography will help keep track of exactly what areas have been surveyed; all as part of the most systematic IBWO search ever conducted (and to run through next April 30). Still, a VERY large, dense, inhospitable habitat is involved, looking for a creature that, though big, can easily fly out-of-view or simply duck inside a tree-hole to become invisible. Were it the case that Cache River held the last 1-2 Ivory-bills on Earth it would not surprise me at all for them to escape further detection; but my view is that multiple IBWOs exist there (and in other areas as well), greatly increasing the likelihood of encounter, though not necessarily the chance of a definitive photo.

Though many of us KNOW better, among the most hardened skeptics, Donald Eckelberry's 1944 sighting of a lone female Ivory-bill in Louisiana's Singer Tract is still cited as the last authenticated sighting of an IBWO (Eckelberry, by the way, had NO photos, NO video, NO audio recording, and no other credible adult witnesses, but his tale is easily accepted). Here is his wonderful description of that 1944 experience: (Picture it in your own mind's eye...)
"She came trumpeting in to the roost, her big wings cleaving the air in strong, direct flight, and she alighted with one magnificent upward swoop. Looking about wildly with her hysterical pale eyes, tossing her head from side to side, her black crest erect to the point of leaning forward, she hitched up the tree at a gallop, trumpeting all the way. Near the top she became suddenly quiet and began preening herself. With a few disordered feathers properly and vigorously rearranged, she gave her distinctive double rap, the second blow following so closely the first that it was almost like an echo -- an astonishingly loud, hollow, drumlike Bam-bam! Then she hitched down the tree and sidled around to the roost hole, looked in, looked around, hitched down beneath the entrance, double-rapped, and went in."
....may the upcoming search efforts produce many more such descriptions! Godspeed to all participants...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


-- ... just a few good quotes --

“The ivorybill was an extravagant creature, by all accounts, a vision in ebony and white... We cut its habitat right out from under it, and we continue to cut it. We’ve sent out countless messages with our saws and our columns of smoke. Leave or die out. Find somewhere else to live. This land is our land, now. And it just doesn’t listen to us; it goes on, somewhere, I have to believe it; not dead, but missing in action; alive, definitely, desperately, joyously, alive. No one can tell me I’m wrong, and, it seems, no one can tell me I’m right. There are those of us who cannot let it go.” -- Julie Zickefoose, 1999

"I was in a magical place. Deep and magical, with trees that were very old. I had just set my paddle down, thinking how lucky I was to be in such a place, and that's when the bird flew in. It gave me a long straight view as it flew toward me." -- Gene Sparling describing his encounter with an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Cache River NWR

"Since the first sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, this has consumed us. We have dedicated our time and our dreams to protecting and conserving this area. These woods are my church." -- John Fitzpatrick Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

"I was, frankly, shocked by the force of my reaction to this bird... To be shaking, on the verge of tears -- this startled me. After all, I'm a scientist.... In some way, the lives of those of us who have been touched briefly by the Ivory-billed Woodpecker will never be the same again." -- Melanie Driscoll (one of Cornell's original 7 sighters of the IBWO)

"The odds against your stumbling upon the last Ivory-billed Woodpecker are astronomical. It's much more likely that this bird is part of a population, however small. This bird had parents. Where are they? Where did they come from?" -- John Fitzpatrick

"... if you make the sighting known, you doom the bird. So far we've shown as a species that we're incapable of doing the right thing." -- Mary Scott (IBWO searcher and internet site developer)

...and finally,

“...for now, we can savor the satisfaction of this joyous discovery, a validation of two undeniable truths. The first, of course, is that where there is life, there's hope. The second, no less profound, is that we have no earthly idea what goes on in the backwoods of Arkansas.” -- Mike, an internet blogger, 4/28/05

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


-- The AR. Story, Again --

Here's yet another nice retelling of the AR. Ivory-bill search from a college alumni magazine:



Sunday, October 23, 2005


- And More on Cornell Contract -

The following post from Laura Erickson appeared on her blog Sun. (10/23):
"A couple of weeks ago, I got a letter from Cornell inviting me to be on their Ivory-bill search team. What a thrill! But I would have to sign an agreement that all of my photos, videos, sound recordings, and field notes would BELONG 100% to Cornell. They would have to give me special permission for each and every photo and word I put on my blog--even just to highlight the beauty and diversity of the habitat! I can understand why this is the case, and would feel a little better about it if this stuff was going to belong to the Lab of Ornithology, but there's a whole additional layer of bureaucracy with the university. So I've decided to go on my own. I'll be spending most or all of January down there, searching on my own, after consulting with everyone I can find to ensure that I'm not going to cause any possible disruption of any birds that may be present. I'm not expecting to see an Ivory-bill (though if I did!!!! Imagine that!) but I do want to immerse myself in the habitat and take bazillions of photos so people can clearly see why ivory-bills notwithstanding, the habitat is deserving of protection on its own merits. Thank goodness Binoculars.com is funding this search! What fun it's going to be."
No doubt such regimentation/subordination will dissuade other potential searchers as well from participating with the Cornell team, choosing like Laura, to go their own way. While most of us probably understand to some degree the 'necessity' or expectation for this kind of control over the Arkansas search situation, it is none-the-less an unfortunate state of affairs that such tight control holds sway these days as standard American business practice (and science and educational institutions are just further forms of business). Capitalism ain't what it used to be!

Saturday, October 22, 2005


-- AR. IBWO Search Contract --

On her birding blog, "BirdChick" has posted part of the contract she's been given as a chosen member of the winter (early December) Cornell search team in AR. Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary here from what one might expect, but still somewhat interesting reading to get a feel for the outing:
"There are two different search crews and these are the highlights of the contract and volunteer information for the crew I will be working on:

You are responsible for your own travel to and from Arkansas, including transportation from the airport if you are flying. We recommend flying into Memphis, TN or Little Rock, AR. These locations are both approximately 1.5-2.5 hours from our field stations. Travel to and from search areas and field sites will be provided by Cornell.

Group housing will be provided and is available from the Sunday night before your scheduled start date through the Saturday night before your scheduled departure on a Sunday. Please plan to arrive at your designated field station on Sunday, as your training will begin at 8:00am on Monday.

(Your) crew will stay at a USFWS-owned research station on the levee road, south of St. Charles. This is a rustic, remote location with a bunkhouse and small house trailer, both with a kitchen and bath. There are 5 bedrooms between the two. It’s definitely not the Hilton, but we hope you’ll be comfortable there. The phone line is poor and Internet access will likely not be available at this site. Cell phones should work on the levee wall, which is a short walk from the bunkhouse. People on this crew should plan to stay at the research station, as there are no hotels within commuting distance of the study site. Helena is the closest town with amenities, approximately an hour away.

You are responsible for your own food during your stay in Arkansas. (Your) crew will need to purchase food for at least a week on their drive from the airport. If driving from Memphis, I’d recommend shopping at the Super Walmart in Forrest City. Helena is the closest town with some amenities. Stuttgart and De Witt both have grocery stores as well on the west side of the river.

We recommend bringing:
1) binoculars – hopefully waterproof
2) chest waders-Women: Hodgman women's wadelight breathable stockingfoot chest waders
Cabela's women's G-II boot-foot chest wader
3) field clothing – lots of warm layers
4) warm socks – again use layers
5) warm gloves/mittens
6) warm hat – preferably a dark color or camo
7) foot and hand chemical heat packs – slip in your boots and gloves
8) watch
9) compass
10) camouflage outer layer (required) – a camo mesh bug suit works well. You can wear it over shorts and t-shirt or over a bunch of warm layers. It’s also reasonable for keeping bugs at bay, so it’s pretty multi-purpose
11) thermos
12) water bottles
13) knee high rubber boots – are pretty handy and available at local Walmarts
14) head lamp or flashlight
15) bedding – most beds are twins
16) sleeping bag – instead of bedding is fine
17) pillow
18) towel
19) personal audio, video, and camera equipment
20) cell phone

What we’ll provide:
1) canoes
2) paddles
3) pfds
4) GPS unit
5) video camera
6) training manual
7) field notebooks and dataforms

Again, not a relaxing vacation. Did I include in the above that the field work consists of 10 to 12 hour days, mostly in blinds? However, this will be the chance of a lifetime."

Let's wish her (...and everyone involved) much luck and success....


-- Harrison Video --

Since many readers don't peruse the "comments" to previous posts I'll highlight this one that came in from Patrick Coin for the wider audience:
"Birder's World Forum, in this thread is reporting that Bobby Harrison is going to release a video of an IBWO from 2004 that has not been made public previously. It is supposed to happen at a conference on November 4 in Boston, Massachusetts. Harrison had mentioned this video in an article in the September, 2005 issue of Natural History, but I had not seen it mentioned in any other source."

cautionary note: while every new bit of evidence will of course be highly anticipated and poured over it will be surprising if this video piece adds much to the discussion or changes any minds. There had been rumors of this clip being released for quite awhile; the fact that it has taken this long, is even briefer/poorer than the controversial Luneau footage, and was never used by Cornell as part of their original published evidence, indicates how weak and inconclusive it must be (I'm not even clear if Harrison is releasing this on his own or has the full backing of Cornell in presenting it as evidence???). If by any chance video enhancing techniques have actually resulted in recognizable/suggestive film frames, then I suppose those techniques themselves will be called into question... At any rate, thanks Patrick for the heads-up notice.

add-on: please see Patrick's further note below for link to and quote from Harrison's Natural History article -- I'll simply reiterate though that I chose not to cite this information back in Sept. because of doubts that the clip could carry any weight in the ongoing debate. We can all look forward to seeing (or hearing about) the film once released, just don't raise your expectations too high. It certainly won't satisfy those clamoring for a 'conclusive' photo/video.


Thursday, October 20, 2005


-- Ivory-bill Inspires a Quilter --

If you're into the Ivory-billed Woodpecker AND quilting you might want to check out this webpage where a quilter has completed a wonderful piece highlighting the Lord God Bird, and asking appropriately, "What secrets does the forest hold?"


Wednesday, October 19, 2005


-- Ebay THIS! --

Now for something totally different...

A post at BirdChat today detailed a Passenger Pigeon mount from a private collection being auctioned off at eBay! That got my attention, but could not locate it when I went to eBay's site -- I suspect either it ran into legal problems or got snapped up right away! In any event made me wonder what would pop up if I typed in "ivory-billed woodpecker" on the eBay search engine. So if anyone is interested there were 14 IBWO offerings up for auction, mostly artistic items, and additionally, at "eBay stores" another 40 items, mostly books, for sale.
And still, can't help but wonder if someone had a mounted Pass. Pigeon to auction off, how many folks out there have a stuffed IBWO somewhere in their attics...?


-- "Hope Takes Flight" luncheon --

As the winter IBWO search gets underway in a few weeks there will be yet another get-together/presentation to which the public is invited. The "Hope Takes Flight" luncheon will take place Fri. Nov, 4 in Atlanta, Ga. with Honorary Nature Conservancy Chair, former Pres. Jimmy Carter, giving the welcoming remarks via video. Members of the original search team will once again recount the Ivory-bill's re-discovery.
(There are actually several more presentations being given around the country between now and the winter search commencement, but I'll forego chronicling most of them unless something especially noteworthy is involved.)


Monday, October 17, 2005


-- Some '60 Minutes' Followup --

Joe Neal on the Arkansas bird listserv made this point today following CBS's '60 Minutes' IBWO report:

"Sunday night's broadcast on "60 Minutes" about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
was, overall, a wonderful piece of journalism. When it was over, however, I
felt that there had been a BIG omission. So BIG that I think they missed
the story, or at least a key part of it. They missed the message that will
also be critical in the future.
I did not hear anything in the broadcast about how it was that the
Cache River escaped complete channelization, which would have led to the
loss of nearly 100% of the wetlands and bottomland forests. That is,
nowhere mentioned was Rex Hancock and the army of duck hunters, anglers,
and other conservationists, primarily natives of eastern Arkansas, who
fought the channelization to a standstill, then financed initial land
purchases for the refuge. Nowhere mentioned was the role of a key state
agency, Arkansas Game & Fish, and the public lands it has acquired for
public hunting access, which are now key parcels in the unfolding
Ivory-billed story. The story of the Ivory-bill, in my opinion, should
NEVER be told without including the amazing victory over the channelization
that set the stage. It's all about habitat, and it's all about what it
takes to save habitat.
In making these statements, I don't mean to rain on a good piece of
national journalism--I was thrilled to see it. Everything can't be included
in a brief available time. HOWEVER, in placing emphasis on the non-hunting
bird watchers (who were nicely featured in one part of the broadcast)
rather than on those who had a much more significant role in stopping the
channelization -- the "bird killing" duck hunters, etc -- the history gets
skewed, and lessons that need to emerge from such events don't get learned.
We million bird watchers could have been left out. The fight waged by
duck hunters should have been in."


Sunday, October 16, 2005


-- Not Much News... --

The Ivory-bill has clearly hit the big-time of both science and pop culture, gracing the cover of Science Magazine AND being covered by CBS's '60 Minutes' all in a few months' time! Ed Bradley's '60 Minutes' piece was a nice, feel-good segment, but without much new news to pass along.
(And though I enjoyed the '60 Minutes' report, I do worry just a bit if too much 'glamorization' of this bird in popular media may be deleterious in the long run, inspiring a cadre of publicity-minded searchers out there who don't necessarily have the species' best interest in mind.)
Also Mary Scott has posted 4 search reports from individual Ivory-bill seekers at her birdingAmerica.com site, which you may find of interest.
Cornell has likewise been collecting reports for the last several months, and it would be interesting to know if they intend to publish or summarize any of those at some point or are saving them for their own proprietary use?
In any event could be a few more slow news weeks ahead until more foliage drops from Southern forests and the winter search is well underway with many more searchers in the field trekking the vast areas involved.


Friday, October 14, 2005


-- '60 Minutes' Feature! --

This Sunday (10/16, 7 pm. EDT) CBS's '60 Minutes' will devote a segment to the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas. Be there!!

Thursday, October 13, 2005


-- Ivory-bill License Plate --

Many states offer special "conservation" license plates at a higher fee, with the extra money going toward conservation efforts. Starting in January '06 the state of Arkansas will be offering one with... (surprise, surprise) the Ivory-billed Woodpecker stunningly gracing the plate. Quite an eye-catcher actually, beautifully done -- take a look here... and drool.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005


-- Hope, Faith, and Responsibility --

Clipped this interesting chunk of post from another's webpage:

"The old certainty that the bird [Ivory-bill] didn't exist was replaced by a fragile new knowledge that it did, news that arrived in a flood of scientists' tears -- the accounts of those who first saw the bird are drenched in shuddering emotion. Ornithologists everywhere were happy to have been so wrong for so long. (Imagine if political pundits were half so happy to admit error, how interesting political discourse might get...)
The reappearance of the woodpecker seems like a second chance -- a chance to expand its habitat, to get it right this time. Maybe that's what links the big surprises of 2005, this sense that there can be another unexpected round, the tenth inning in which the outcome could be different; that failure and devastation are not always final. Scott Simon, the Arkansas Nature Conservancy director who, with Cornell University scientists, led the search for the woodpecker, writes, "It is sometimes said that faith requires the suspension of belief. In this case, belief has been rewarded with reality. The fact is, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker survives. What a great outcome for decades of faith, hope, and prayers."

The woodpecker was a spectacular thing unto itself, but also a message that we don't really know what's out there, even in the forests of the not-very-wild southeast, let alone the ocean depths from which previously uncatalogued creatures regularly emerge. Late last month, University of Alaska marine biologists reported seven new species found during an expedition under the arctic ice that uncovered a much richer habitat with far more fauna than anticipated....

The woodpecker is a small story; the big environmental story of our time is about extinctions and endangerments, about creatures and habitats moving toward the very brink this bird came back from; but this small story suggests that there are still grounds to hope -- to doubt that we truly know exactly what is out there and what is possible. Hope is not history's Barcalounger, as is often thought: it requires you get back out there and protect that habitat or stop that war. It is not the same as optimism, the belief that everything will probably turn out all right despite your inactivity, the same kind of
inactivity that despair begets. Hope involves a sense of possibility, but with it comes responsibility." ( -- Rebecca Solnit)



Tuesday, October 11, 2005


-- Interlude... --

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."

-- Henry Beston, Author (1888-1968)

...indeed, one can picture Ivory-bills moving, gliding 'finished and complete' with extended senses through the splendour of Arkansas bayous, cautiously 'living by voices' we mere humans can no longer hear... and would fail utterly to comprehend even if we could.

Monday, October 10, 2005


-- April 1999 (Back to Pearl River) --

Those who doubt the Arkansas Ivory-bill claims, of course also doubt David Kulivan's sighting of 2 Ivory-bills at Pearl River in 1999. Kulivan was grilled more than any IBWO claimant prior to the AR. reports. To my knowledge NO ONE ever came away from questioning David thinking a hoax or prank even might be involved; indeed all interviewers were impressed with David's apparent sincerity and genuineness. So tossing out the likelihood of a hoax we are left once again with but one other possibility: mistaken identity.
David claimed he watched the 2 birds forage for several minutes on different trees from different angles, as close as 20 yards, and gave an accurate description of them as male and female Ivory-bills. I don't believe anyone familiar with the woods and Pileateds (as David was) could see 2 birds the size of Pileateds THAT close for THAT long and mistake them for something else. So we are left with 2 basic possibilities:

1. David saw 2 Ivory-bills (possibly just passing through the area -- IBWOs were well known historically for travelling in pairs), or...

2. David saw two Pileateds, but since his description was totally wrong for them, he must've ALSO been wrong (in my opinion) about how long he saw them for, and how close he was to them (sincere, but WRONG)... in short, almost ALL the pertinent details of his report must somehow be wrong, and yet not deliberately so (not lying).

Which is really more likely; that he crossed paths with 2 Ivory-bills, or that he is sincere but in error on all details of his report? (Those whose minds are already pre-made up beforehand may answer one way, and those who treat each and every sighting as a separate case to be reviewed on its own merits may answer another.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005


-- For What It's Worth... --

Last year the Rusty-throated Wren-babbler was found in India's mountains after almost 60 years of 'extinction.'
In 2003 the Long-legged Warbler of those vast, difficult-to-search Fiji Islands was re-discovered after just 105+ years on the lam.
And also in 2003 the
New Zealand Storm Petrel, missing for a mere 150 years was re-discovered flying about it's usual part of the world.
So after the Ivory-bill who will be next?

Saturday, October 08, 2005


-- Over the Years, Sightings Galore??? --

People often don't realize how many sightings of Ivory-bills have been turned in over the decades. Some folks have the impression there are but a couple of unverified reports over the last 60 years and that's it (...no wonder they buy into a notion of IBWO extinction). Most IBWO literature mentions at most just a couple dozen Ivory-bill claims since the mid-40's that have some credibility, but the actual number of reports in that time (that could not be quickly dismissed as hoaxes or mis-identifications) are many times that number -- only the MOST credible ones make their way into the literature. On-the-other-hand, so far as I'm aware the Ivory-bill's contemporary, the Passenger Pigeon, has had virtually no credible reports since the 1930's (indeed few since it's supposed extinction in 1914), while reports of Ivory-bills are a regular occurrence during that time.
If mistaken identifications are such a common occurrence one must wonder why have there not been dozens of reports of Passenger Pigeons over the decades, a species with a far wider-ranging habitat than the IBWO and one that could easily be confused with various other birds given a quick glance? Yet P. Pigeon sightings lie dormant while IBWOs show up again and again and again...

BUUUT... what has always intrigued this writer most is NOT the many IBWO sightings turned in over time, but the likely dozens more sightings NEVER turned in at all. They fall into the following categories:

1. Birders who believe they have seen Ivory-bills but never reported it for fear of the scoffing, jeering, or intimidation they would face.

2. Birders who believe they have seen Ivory-bills (might even have photographic proof), but who believe it UNethical to report such a finding, for fear of the potential havoc brought upon the birds.

3. Birders who have had fleeting 'low-qualiity' glances at big black-and-white woodpeckers in woods and automatically shrugged it off as Pileateds, when in fact they had observed IBWOs.

4. Hunters, fisherman, backwoodsmen, who have seen IBWOs, but didn't have a clue what they were seeing (nor care) and so never reported it.

5. Hunters, fishermen, etc. who have seen IBWOs, and knew EXACTLY what they were seeing, and deliberately chose NOT to report it for fear of Government intervention and tight regulation of the land involved.

My guess is we would be stunned if we knew the actual number of human-Ivorybill encounters in the last 60 years, and it would leave little doubt but that the species survives today in remote corners of the American Southeast.
Has any other bird species EVER generated so many reports over a 60-year period and still been written off as extinct by so many? I doubt it.

Friday, October 07, 2005


-- Come November... --

The search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the 'Rhode-Island-sized' Big Woods area of AR. begins anew in early November. Cornell is promising to send updates of the search efforts to those who join their "e-News" group (free) at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/
Also, David Luneau reports that he, and possibly other searchers, will be posting field notes at: http://nature.org/ivorybill

All searchers under Cornell's auspices will be under 'confidentiality' agreements, so there are likely limitations to precisely what info may be reported, but apparently the public will be kept apprised of at least general progress. Also, keep in mind, searches will take place in several other states besides AR.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


-- The April 2004 Sightings --

Some folks have wondered what might account for the small flurry of Ivory-bill sightings that took place in April 2004 at Cache River with only a few additional sightings either before or since. The bird seen then was generally ID'd as a male. One possible explanation is that a pair of IBWOs successfully nested that season, in which case April could easily have been a month of much chick-feeding. The female often stays at the nest the majority of the day, while the male is out foraging for food for his new family (and incubates at night). By May/June the chicks could have fledged and chick-rearing subsided. If nest attempts of the adult pair then failed in 2005 such foraging activity far afield would be diminished and the pair might stay much closer to their home/roost area (which could be miles from outer feeding areas) than the previous season. This winter, with many more volunteers/searchers on hand, a far wider area can be searched more adequately.

It would be interesting to know if the bird spotted in April '04 flew off in seemingly random directions when approached by sighters or consistently took off in a certain basic direction -- when confronted during the nesting season, birds out foraging often fly off in a direction OPPOSITE the direction the nest is in (a sort of misdirection for any pursuers). If Elvis consistently took off in say a northerly line-of-flight it might imply a nest-site somewhere south of an approaching observer. Just a possibility...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


-- Of Ivory-bills and Nobel Prizes --

Maybe worth noting: A couple days ago Larry Marshall and Robin Warren won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery almost 25 years ago that a bacterium helicobacter pylori was the cause of most stomach ulcers and gastritis. At the time (when it was widely believed ulcers were caused by over-acidity) peers called the contention "preposterous," since bacteria obviously couldn't survive in stomach acid. The findings and discoverers were shunned and denigrated, and it took many years for Marshall and Warren to prove themselves right and the skeptics wrong. Today researchers are looking at what role microbes may play in many other inflammatory ailments, no longer scoffing at this one-time un-establishment notion. Medicine is a field full of instances of entrenched 'accepted knowledge' being overturned in time. So too... field biology.


-- Of Searches and Roosts --

"The daily activities of the woodpeckers [IBWOs] during the non-breeding season follow a definite pattern. Beginning about sunrise, they feed and move actively during the early morning; they are quiet during the middle of the day, feed again in late afternoon, and then end the day by going to roost about dusk. Ivory-bills roost singly in holes, and very frequently use the same hole night after night."

That's in part what James Tanner concluded about Ivory-bill daily behavior from observations of his Singer Tract sample. Clearly, the best possibility for a good photo or video during the winter months would come by finding a roost hole for an individual. Easier said than done. Again, according to Tanner, roost-holes typically "were from forty to fifty feet from the ground... did not face in any particular direction and were not located for protection from rain or wind." Roost-holes could appear as freshly-drilled or olden holes. Only size and shape (roughly oval) gives any hint at all to a possible active hole and in an area as vast as the Big Woods that's not much to go on.
One search technique involves lining up a string of observers 50-100 yards apart along an imaginary line bisecting some large general area of interest about 45 mins. before dusk and letting them sit/stand silently watching for birds returning overhead from either direction back to a roost area wherever that may be; the direction any birds come from obviously indicating a potential feeding area and the direction they are flying toward representing a roost area. And then follow up the next day with that piece of information in mind. If no birds-of-interest are observed then the next evening attempt to form a new line bisecting and running perpendicular to the first night's line to catch birds that flew perpendicular to, instead of across, the first night's string of watchers; again all this is easier said-than-done in deep woods/swamp... if it was easy we wouldn't be here conjecturing about it!

Monday, October 03, 2005


-- BioScience Commentary --

A reader drew my attention to this commentary on the Arkansas IBWO discovery by zoologist Walter Koenig in the Aug. 2005 BioScience Magazine (Vol. 55, No.8).


Sunday, October 02, 2005


-- Population bottlenecks --

The following post from an "Eric" on another bird forum is of some relevance here:
(I didn't realize either that the Whooping Crane had gotten down to 14 individuals!)

"I just did a literature search on this and found that I was wrong. As of 1938 there were only 14 whooping cranes left, not 40. As of 1997 there were 160 in the original wild migrant population, 100 in captivity and 73 in a reintroduced wild population. This number is higher today. I got these numbers from an article by Glen, Stephan and Braun (Effect of a population bottleneck on whooping crane mitochondrial DNA variation. 1999 Conservation Biology vol 13, #5 1097-1107). By comparing mt DNA sequences from museum specimens to those of extant birds they determined that of 6 haplotypes (analogous to "families") existing pre-bottleneck, only one formerly rare haplotype exists today. In other words most of the genetic diversity that once existed is gone today.

On the brighter side of this the birds are recovering despite being highly inbred. Similar findings of low genetic variation in species that have very small effective population sizes have been reported for desert pupfishes. The best known of these is the Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) which lives in a water filled limestone fissure near Death Valley. What is significant about this species is that it has an effective population size of less than 200 (the population varies seasonally) and it generally lives less than 2 years. This last point is important since inbreeding depression is a function of number of generations, not time per se.

Taken together, these results imply that inbreeding depression does not always occur in formerly bottlenecked or chronically small populations. It's really probably a luck of the draw whether or not individuals that make it through the bottleneck harbor really deleterious mutations or not.

Back to the subject at hand, it would seem that there is reason to hope that IBW can make some semblance of a recovery, assuming that a population still exists."


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Older Posts ...Home