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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

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


-- IBWO e-newsletter --

The Nature Conservancy is offering an e-newsletter pertaining to the Ivory-bill search.
Go here to view online copies or sign up for email delivery:



-- Just For Fun --

OK, call me a "Pterosaur Skeptic," but just stumbled upon this story on the possibility of prehistoric pterosaurs escaping extinction (and for those so adament about photographic evidence I would especially direct you to pg. 2 of the article) -- Kind of a fun read (...actually, I'm just trying my best to distract the Nelson brothers on to other topics).


-- Chicago Talk --

Tonight (Nov. 30) at Chicago's venerable Field Museum, John Fitzpatrick and others involved with the Arkansas search will give another interactive talk on rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Maybe he will explain how not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, but 7 to 16 people, at different times, on different days, from different positions, at different angles may have all mistaken a Pileated Woodpecker for an Ivory-bill... or, maybe not.
These talks are still travelling around the country so be on the lookout for one in your area sometime. A presentation is scheduled for Jefferson City, MO. Dec. 8, in Raleigh, NC. sometime in Feb., and Bobby Harrison speaks in Lakeland, FL. on Dec. 3, among other talks.

Monday, November 28, 2005


-- A Truly Incredible AR. Finding! --

Snowy Owls are one of my mostest favoritest grandest birds in the whole entire world so felt compelled to pass along this post which appeared today on the AR. birding listserv:
"I was just e-mailed a picture of a bird from the local weekly paper, Heber Springs Sun Times, to identify for them.Yes, no kidding, it was a Snowy Owl. Details are sketchy so far but it was apparently taken this past weekend north of Quitman along Hwy. 356 in Cleburne Co.The landowner said the bird appeared to be injured so he captured it and apparently turned it over to the AG&FC. Of course more info is needed to know if this truly a wild bird and a bonafide occurence but what other records are there for Arkansas ?"

Apparently (according to another poster) there are only 4 records of Snowys in AR., and those occurred between 1946 and 1955 -- I'm guessin' there have been a whole lot more Ivory-bills than Snowys in the state both before and since then!!

Sunday, November 27, 2005


-- Like Father Like Son --

No real news here, but slightly interesting article from the Baltimore Sun, if only because it's the first I've heard of a father-son team involved in the AR. search -- and it's no less than IBWO expert Jerome Jackson and son Jerry, who is a photographer for The Sun:




Saturday, November 26, 2005


-- Imperial Woodpecker Update --

Not too promising -- The following note from John Spencer was posted on a Mexican birding listserv a few days past summarizing his recent search for the Imperial W. in an area it had been purportedly spotted a short time back:
"I am now home in La Ribera, Baja Calif Sur. A ten day round trip to El
Furete and Copper Canyon now over. I spent the time looking for the Imperial Woodpecker.
Spent four days carefully searching the area that my friends (Ron and
Sarojam Mankau) sighted the Imperial. I personally covered the area
from Divisadero to Posada Barranca, from road to rim (about 4 miles by
about 1 mile). Did not sight the bird and did not I find any 'old
growth' snags/trees that had nesting/resting sites. All along the rim
is second growth, with few/no old growth trees. Not prime habitat.
On the Friday morning (18th) Greg Homel checked into the Mirador
Hotel. Greg has the time, resources and skill to find the bird. He is
a 'pro' and has been looking for this bird for twenty years. I pass
the 'baton' on to him and wish him all the luck in the world. I'm just
a plain old birdwatcher and really have neither the skill or resources
to continue the search.
I believe that the bird has left the sighting area, and Greg will find
her by searching the proper habitat. I have no doubt that the bird is
in the area, I couldn't find it as much as I wanted to.
Let's wish Greg all the luck in the world.
If you want a more complete report of my trip I'll post it on
www.bajajohn.com in the next couple of days. Or email me and I'll
attach a copy in reply.

Bajabirdwatcher ... John Spencer"


Thursday, November 24, 2005


-- Gotta Spare $2000 ? --

for my many readers with more expendable income than you know what the hey to do with :

A few posts back I commented that 'capitalism thrives'; maybe I should've said capitalism runs amok --
in 2002, during the official Pearl River search I was surprised to see original copies of James Tanner's monograph on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker going for over $500 on the internet. On another quick check of eBay today I just noticed that someone now has a copy up for bid and is asking $2000 for a quick sale! (the Dover reprint is $12.95) -- for that price I would expect it to have, at a minimum, James Tanner's autograph and some fresh Ivory-bill droppings...


-- New USF&W Website, and more --

US Fish & Wildlife Service has put up a new site to aid those making their way to Big Woods to look for 'Elvis'. Worth a look even if you're not headed down that way:


Possibly worth mentioning (though I'm very wary of them), there have been a number of undetailed, individual reports of possible IBWO sightings briefly mentioned on the Web in the last few months in Fla., LA., MS., MO., and I think either GA. or AL., in addition to AR. Not terribly meaningful at this point, but with more time, maybe. No idea how many reports have flowed into Cornell through their solicitation, or how many of those have any credibility whatsoever in their eyes.

....and a final editorial note: All creatures have a 'will to live' and a drive to reproduce far stronger I think than humans (and particularly, skeptics) give them credit for, regarding them instead more like automatons obedient to OUR hypotheses and expectations. But the intelligence, instinct, and individuality of woodland creatures far surpasses what we tend to acknowledge, often proving our
flimsy notions false. Quite simply, this is especially so for creatures with wings who are not gravity-bound, and who possess a freedom (and evasiveness) we fail to appreciate or factor in. If documentation of IBWOs is attained, words like "incredible," "miracle," and "unbelievable" will be grossly overused -- it will be nothing of the sort; just creatures who can, on a whim, fly to new habitat, drawing upon their will to live under changing conditions as they always have and always will... and defying simple-minded human considerations in the process.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005


-- Tomorrow... --

"If the only prayer you say in your entire life is 'Thank you,' that will suffice."

-- Meister Eckhart

To all you readers out there, at this time, in this illustrious Year-of-the-Ivorybill, wishes for a HAPPY, HEALTHY, & GRATEFUL THANKSGIVING!....

(...and may we all get what we're hoping for for Christmas! ; - )

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


-- Start the Bidding --

Just out of curiosity I now check eBay once-a-month-or-so just to see what "Ivory-billed Woodpecker" items might be showing up there (usually mostly books and art works of one sort or another), and on a recent check the item that caught my eye is a copy of the "Brinkley Argus" newspaper in which the "original announcement" of the IBWO "in its hometown" was announced -- asking starting bid, $5.00... ahhh, yes, capitalism thrives in America! (from the same town that brings you Ivory-bill haircuts and Ivory-bill burgers) -- actually, it looks like a possible great souvenir for some lucky reader of this blog... and hey, Christmas is right around the corner!

Try this link (maybe half-way down the page) for a look-see, or look it up yourself on eBay.


Monday, November 21, 2005


-- Macaulay Library of Sounds --

While we're biding time here's a link to a fairly interesting (and longish) article from The American Scholar (Summer 2005 issue) on the Ivory-bill and the Macaulay Library of natural sounds at Cornell that may be of some interest:



-- A Reading or Two--

Lately, I've been reading a lot of material on two disparate subjects that inspire mystical thoughts for me: mathematics and nature/wilderness. The passages below just might be evocative for current Ivory-bill searchers and come from an anthology I only recently discovered, "The Soul Unearthed -- Celebrating Wildness and Spiritual Renewal Through Nature," edited by Cass Adams:
"It is only in the forest that I realize how many rooted structures exist inside of me, and it is in the forest now, with my breath lifting in billowing spirals in the cold air, that I am suddenly released into the miracle of small things -- a bird's movement on a branch, the sound of water still dripping from yesterday's rainstorm. In the forest everything in the mind can be given away, so that the heart can be open to the intense concentration that natural objects demand. Through this concentration where nothing exists but the object itself, enormous energy opens out through the woodland silhouette." -- David Whyte

"We have become estranged from the earth, from our bodies, and from the other beings who inhabit the earth. There is great fear and misunderstanding about wilderness. In general, we lack a familiar and close relationship to the very source of life that sustains us... Wilderness leads us back to our center. Even the knowledge that wild places exist consoles and frees the human spirit." -- Cass Adams

"Mystery, and certainly, humility are not virtues that contemporary culture supports... Wilderness, on the other hand, supports and cultivates a taste for embracing and even finding strength in mystery and humility... Do you want to transform your life? My recommendation is a simple one: Go out in the wilds, take off your shoes, sink your feet well into the ground, and be touched by mystery." -- Steven Harper

....and tomorrow, maybe something on prime numbers... but probably not.

Friday, November 18, 2005


-- Records Committee Says 'Yes' to IBWO --

This notice comes late today from Laura Erickson's birdblog -- (my reaction to it is, "well, duhhhhhh!!," but others will no doubt find it of more significance) :
"LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS—After reviewing evidence of the ivory-billed woodpecker gathered in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in April 2004, the Bird Records Committee of the Arkansas Audubon Society has voted to change the status of the bird in Arkansas from ''extirpated'' to ''present''.
Max Parker, longtime curator for the Arkansas Audubon Society, received on June 17, 2005, verifying documentation for the extraordinary record from a member of the research team. The documentation was studied at length by all members of the Arkansas Bird Records Committee before the record was accepted."

You can read Laura's full post at:




-- Back To The Pearl --

Among the many folks out searching for Ivory-bills right now is Mike Collins (not associated with Cornell, and therefore more free to report whatever he so chooses) who is exploring the general Pearl River area (not Arkansas), believing he has previously heard IBWO near the Stennis Space Center, as have others. You can follow his updates at:


Despite the failure of the previous LSU search in the Pearl many (including Van Remsen who headed up that endeavor) believe it still holds great promise -- I personally always thought the Bogue Chitto area in particular was a likely home for Ivory-bills and was admittedly surprised by the 2002 failure to turn them up there. Could still be a little while though for the leaves to entirely fall from the trees permitting good visibility, and keep in mind too that Ivory-bill courting/breeding activity could likely begin early in the new year.


Thursday, November 17, 2005


-- One More Person's Viewpoint --

Once again Birdchick Blog has another fun/interesting post today, this time on the recent Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival
(you may want to read the whole thing), but including this noteworthy passage on David Luneau's video, for what it's worth:
"Tim Gallagher gave a presentation and signing at the RGV Fest too. Watching his footage of the Luneau video was a very different experience than having watched it on the internet or tv news where it's blown up to grainy proportions. Having watched it on a large screen at regular speed, it makes much more sense as to why this is an ivory-billed woodpecker and not an albinistic pileated. Whether or not you believe the bird in the footage is an ivory-bill, I will tell you this, it is for sure not a pileated. It doesn't have the flight pattern a pileated does -- this isn't someone speaking from behind a computer, this is someone who has considered a pileated a favorite bird since age seven and has watched it for hours in the field. If anything you could argue that the footage is an albinistic wood duck from the way the wings flap and the speed that the bird in question leaves the tree--it doesn't have the flight pattern of a woodpecker at all. What keeps it from being a wood duck is that you can see the bird clinging to the side of a tree before it takes off."


Wednesday, November 16, 2005


-- for the umpteenth time --

With the lull in the news, and at the risk of beating a dead palomino, I'll just reiterate a few major points (for the umpteenth time):

1) The Big Woods area of AR. is about the size of the state of Rhode Island -- nothing too unusual about not being able to find a bird in a (mostly wooded) area that vast (depends how many there are) -- heck, half the time I can't find my car in the mall parking lot! And in the 80 years prior to Pearl River there were never any truly large-scale, organized, meaningful, well-funded searches for the bird; NONE.

2) ...nor anything whatsoever unusual about failure to capture the bird on film. Without finding an active roost or nest hole this will remain difficult at best (although the sheer number of searchers running around with cameras/video of course increases the chances of at least more fuzzy shots).

3) at least 16 people claim to have seen/identified the bird -- all of whom know about, and are experienced viewing Pileated Woodpeckers. Furthermore, most of the sightings occurred out in the open, unlike some past sightings that have involved interference from leaves or tree limbs. (...As I've said before, if the sighters' names included "Sibley," "Kaufman," "Dunne," "Ehrlich,", etc. we wouldn't even be having this debate, no matter how brief the glimpses, because rightly or wrongly, those who write books or are mass media "names" are automatically granted credibility not afforded to others.) Numerous bird identifications, including those used in official counts, are based on equally brief looks -- only people's biasing, preconceived notions of Ivory-bill extinction cause them to challenge all such sightings.

4) For several sighters SIZE was one of the very first, most striking features of the bird in question -- this is significant since other field marks can be missed with a bird in flight (although the key trailing white wing edge, the one fieldmark people are incessantly told to focus on, was reported by most sighters).

5) Credible reports of Ivory-bills have been made every decade since the 40's (indeed, since at least the 20's). It is the pronouncement of "60 years without being seen" that is, and always has been, a completely unproven, unwarranted claim, that again biases people ahead of time to (against) any new reports.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


...Ti-i-i-ime Out...

Okay, I bill this blog as "All Ivory-bills, All the time," but for the first time ever am going momentarily OFF-topic to refer folks to a post I thought too wonderful not to pass along, on another marvelous bird, the California Condor -- this post from 'birdchick' today (Tues., Nov 15), concerns an injured Ca. Condor in rehab in Minnesota of all places, and includes some great photos along with the storyline... Enjoy!



-- Some of The Folks Involved --

If you haven't already seen it, there are short blurbs/bios of people involved in the Arkansas search (with nice quotes) available at:


(...and geee, despite what skeptics might have you thinking, most of these folks even have credentials, college degrees, experience, and appear non-hallucinatory!!)


-- Arkansas Carrying Capacities --

A couple of posts back I made mention of forest 'dead timber densities' and IBWO 'carrying capacities;' if you want to see more data on such factors (densities of large-diameter trees, snags, and dead wood)
in the pertinent Arkansas areas, check out the following site that provides some graphic habitat inventory maps based on recent research:



Monday, November 14, 2005


-- Stay Tuned --

This short note from David Luneau's website today:
" 'NOVA ScienceNow' will be featuring the IBWO as one of the TOP 10 science stories of 2005 in a program that will run sometime in January. Keep an eye on your local PBS listings."

...for any birding story, even including re-discovery of the Ivory-bill, to make a top 10 list of all possible science stories for a given year is pretty remarkable!!

Sunday, November 13, 2005


-- Ivory-bill Estimates --

After the initial announcement of Arkansas Ivory-bills I attempted to estimate how many IBWOs might remain in the entire American Southeast, based on distribution of previous reports, habitat availability, time passed since Tanner's study, possible breeding and death rates, and... intuition. As best I can recall the numbers I arrived at ranged from a low estimate of ~45 birds to a high of possibly ~125. These numbers were based on such imprecise and hard-to-quantify data and assumptions, that I presumed they would be scoffed at as absurdly optimistic.
Now, some folks on a BirdForum thread, using dead timber density and other 'carrying capacity' factors as guides, are throwing out possible Ivory-bill estimates of well over 100 birds for just AR. and LA. alone; thus, I'm a bit more heartened that in the end my figures might just prove to be moderate or even conservative, rather than insanely optimistic.

Friday, November 11, 2005


10 Things I Learned OUTside Kindergarten...

Just a few things I learned all on my own, when I wasn't in school studying stupid stuff:

1. Birds are pretty smart critters (...and corollary, humans ain't as smart as they invariably think they are).
2. Birds know the outdoors and their own territories a whole lot better than humans do, or ever could.
3. Birds have appendages called "wings" that allow them to move swiftly, on a moment's notice, at will, in any direction, far away, to evade predators or detection.
4. Creatures that get shot at don't much like it, and over time learn to avoid the creatures doing the shooting.
5. Though the woods "are lovely dark and deep," they can also be vast, dense, inhospitable, poorly-accessible, and difficult to traverse without making lots and lots of noise.
6. Living things have a tremendous will/drive to live and reproduce, and adaptive individuals virtually always survive well past the time silly humans think they're all gone.
7. It can be difficult to make generalizations about species because individual members are so variable and dynamic.
8. Extinction is forever, and that's a LONG, LONG time -- one ought be mighty gosh darn positive before ever declarin' it, or you just might look like a fool.
9. The Universe is positively brimming with improbabilities.
10. Children's intuition (before it is extinguished) is right just about as often as grown-up science is.

....just a few late-night thoughts; think it's my naptime now.


-- More Words From The Past --

A bit of Jerry Jackson as we head into the weekend -- Back in his 1989 (pre-Pearl River and Big Woods) report to the Government USF&W, after extensive study of Ivory-bill natural history and searching, IBWO expert Dr. Jerome Jackson wrote the following (not all readers will know the specific cases he makes reference to, but you'll understand the gist, and a near identical passage appears in his current book as well):
"Perhaps we can dismiss the photographs that George Lowery presented to the ornithological community. Perhaps we can dismiss the sightings reported by Whitney Eastman. Perhaps we can dismiss the sightings of John Dennis. Perhaps we can explain away the Dennis tape recordings that were analyzed by Hardy. Maybe there is a miniscule chance that the recording made by Reynard isn’t of an Ivory-bill. Perhaps we can dismiss the response to tape recordings that were heard by Robert Manns, Malcolm Hodges, and myself or the birds heard by Fred Sibley and Ted Davis. But the list goes on and on -- right up to the present. If each of these observations has any probability at all of having been real, these probabilities add up. It is unlikely that all of these reports are misidentifications."
Additionally, Jackson concluded the following regarding possible ivory-bill locales:
"...the most likely states in which ivory-bills might still exist are, in order of likelihood: Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas would be next, and Alabama and Arkansas would be behind them."

Hmmm... Arkansas last? After years of study was Jackson just flat-out wrong, or did he have it right and the now sought-after AR. birds are in fact just one of the smaller populations of ivory-bills out there to be discovered???

Thursday, November 10, 2005


-- Symposium Abstracts' Thoughts --

Just a few thoughts about the Symposium abstracts previously referenced:

The abstracts are interesting, but often only hint at the details that may have been covered in the full presentations. As could be expected many of the abstracts are more indicative of what we DON'T fully know or understand about Ivory-bills than what we do know.

Here is one quote from the abstracts I throw out only to indicate that among principals of the search, unlike the constant armchair debaters over the internet, there is LITTLE doubt what the Luneau video shows:
"Due to technical imperfections, the woodpecker in the Luneau video offers a challenging identification puzzle but comparisons with images of Pileated Woodpecker in flight and a reenactment with models of Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Pileated Woodpecker demonstrate the videoed bird is indeed an Ivory-billed
Woodpecker. "

I am still troubled somewhat by the acoustic data; so far as I can tell there is still no indication that the "kents" recorded in the Big Woods have been compared to the 'toots' of a Red-breasted Nuthatch, the bird Tanner (and I) believe most resembles the Ivory-bill sound (albeit not as loud); only comparisons to the White-breasted cousin are mentioned (this I think is a major lapse if it has not been done). As far as Blue Jay calls go, I see no great problem with the possibility of the taped kent calls emanating from them, since this simply begs the question of why are Blue Jays in the Big Woods apparently producing this call so much more often than they do throughout most of their range. Either this IS a case of mimicry or it is some sort of strange vocal co-evolution in which case one must explain why do Big Woods Blue Jays make the call much more frequently than say Blue Jays in Chicago, Illinois. (Indeed, how many calls do Blue Jays make that are neither part of their normal daily repertoire nor instances of mimicry??? -- does anyone have a clue...)

Finally, I will quote just one abstract below in its entirety, because it so strongly mirrors the conclusions I too have been approaching over the last few years:

"The role of human depredations in the decline of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker"
-- Noel F.R. Snyder
"In virtually all modern accounts, the endangerment of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been attributed mainly to (1) extreme foraging specialization, leading to a crucial dependency of individuals on vast areas of pristine woodlands to obtain sufficient food, and (2) the logging of nearly all virgin forests in the species' original range. However, rigorously persuasive evidence for the ivory-bill being an extreme foraging specialist appears to be lacking, and the numerous reports of early abundance of the species across its original range are difficult to reconcile with a dependency of individuals on vast areas of mature forests. Although the ivory-bill did exhibit sparse populations and a frequent close association with remnant virgin forests as it approached extinction, these characteristics may have been due mainly tofactors other than food stress. In particular, direct human depredations may have been more important than habitat modification and food scarcity in producing the species' decline. The loss of certain Florida populations to zealous specimen collecting has long been acknowledged. But in addition, there are other populations for which evidence plausibly suggests extirpation mainly due to subsistence, curiosity, and sport killings. The high vulnerability of the ivory-bill to human depredations was often noted in historical accounts, and no substantial regions are known that were free of such threats. In many regions major ivory-bill declines clearly took place before logging operations were initiated, suggesting that habitat destruction was at most a secondary stress, whatever the primary stress may have been. Logging must surely have greatly lowered the carrying capacity of most woodlands for the species, but not necessarily to the point where food supplies were inadequate to support any ivory-bills. Instead, logging's most significant detrimental role may have been the facilitation of human depredations on remnant populations, especially by providing much improved access to formerly remote regions, a role increasingly recognized as crucial in the current disappearance of vulnerable wildlife species from tropical forests around the world."

-- If 'human depredation' was in fact a MAJOR cause of the IBWO's decline than its end in the 30's would have given the species an extra 20 years to stabilize and hang on while waiting for 2nd growth forest to recover in the 50's; 20 years of crucial 'breathing' time.


-- Symposium Abstracts Available --

Abstracts (14 pages worth) of the presentations from the recent large woodpecker ecology symposium in Brinkley are now available (in pdf form) at:


...may have more to say about them after I've read through them myself.


-- In The Popular Press Again --

Yesterday's USA Today contained a somewhat textbook-like article on the Ivory-bill :


Wednesday, November 09, 2005


-- Another Look Back: John Dennis --

...some more ivory-bill history to re-live: Ornithologist and writer John Dennis's reports of Ivory-bills in the Big Thicket area of Texas gained him notoriety and then discredit back in the 1960's. Below is part of the memorable account he wrote for Audubon Magazine in Dec. 1967. Others discounted his claims (which were never corroborated) and later he himself admitted to being overly-optimistic in his estimates of Ivory-bill numbers in Texas though he still believed they were present... as many others still do :
"... toward dusk I heard the tin trumpet-like sound that could only come from one source. I had last heard these notes in the swamps of the Chipola River in northwestern Florida in 1951...
Rain and impassable roads delayed my return to the locale until December 8th, when I made another discovery. Not far from where I had heard the call notes I found a living overcup oak with two fresh, squarish holes -- each about four inches in diameter -- penetrating a hollow trunk. Since the pileated woodpecker does not normally make square roost or nest holes or use living oak trees, I had good reason to believe that this was the work of an ivory-bill.
But when I returned two days later my crest of optimism was diminished. I could not even find the oak with the two squarish holes. All morning I took one compass bearing after another near the spot where I thought the roost tree should be. Then toward noon I wandered along the edge of a cypress-filled bayou. I had walked only a few yards when I was almost paralyzed with excitement by a sight that few have seen.
The bird had apparently been feeding near the ground. Effortlessly and almost gliding, it seemed, it rose from its feeding place, disappeared behind some trees, then reappeared for an instant on the trunk of a big dead cypress tree standing in the nearby bayou. Then before I could fully comprehend what I had seen, the bird vanished in the forest.
The wide white border at the rear edge of the upper wing convinced me beyond doubt that this was an ivory-billed woodpecker. A half-hour later I spotted the bird again. This time I saw what looked like a giant red-headed woodpecker perched on a stump, wings outspread in an attitude that suggested a threat display...
...on February 19th I was able to show Armand Yramategui an ivory-bill at almost the same spot. He saw the same features I did -- the the upper wing pattern, the long pointed tail, and the straight rather than undulating flight. He thought his bird had a black crest.
As I continued my search in this area through early winter, I found evidence of only one bird and this, in all probablility, was a female. My early elation gave way to apprehension. Was this the last ivory-bill in Texas? The last one anywhere?...
... looking back on the history of the ivory-bills’ tenuous survival through this century, I was comforted by the fact that the bird has always reappeared after long absences....

As I searched the Neches River valley during the winter of 1967, evidence began to point to a sizable ivory-bill population. Talking with hunters, fishermen, cattle raisers, lumbermen and oil company workers I found a few persons who had unquestionably seen ivory-bills. The details they gave me could not have come from any book. I also talked to the few hardy birdwatchers who, braving the mosquitoes, water moccasins and difficult terrain, had penetrated the swamps...
In February I found evidence of ivory-bills at still a third location. From a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plane, not only did I spot what was almost certainly an ivory-bill in flight, but the very location had been pinpointed by a woodsman as the place where he had seen one of the birds.
In April, May, and early June, I was again in Texas, this time under the auspices of the Endangered Species Research Station of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. Again my assignment was to search for ivory-bills, to interview people -- and to try to determine just how many birds there were and to locate their territories....
By the end of May, taking into account my own observations and the most trustworthy of those made by others, I made a rough estimate of the ivory-bill population in the Neches Valley. Instead of one forlorn bird, I could speak confidently of between five and ten pairs. This was most encouraging. But uppermost was the question of what could be done at this late date not only to save the ivory-bill from extinction, but to bring its numbers back to a safer level.
The situation is not at all hopeless. I am encouraged, first of all, by the birds’ ability to remain out of sight -- even to the extent of having “disappeared” in Texas for 62 years..."

-- John Dennis, R.I.P. (1916 - 2002)


Tuesday, November 08, 2005


-- Ivory-bill Habitat Potential --

In another new BirdForum note, "fangsheath" reported the following:
"Those with an interest in ivory-bills may find this paper of value. It describes forest changes in the Mississippi alluvial valley from the 1930's to the 1990's. Notice that in the early 1930's, when only about 1 million acres of uncut bottomland forest remained, much of it (though certainly not all) in NE La., there were about 13 million acres of regenerating second-growth. By this time many areas that had been clearcut were probably already 30+ years old. Many areas judged to be old-growth in the 1990's remained in private hands."


--- Many of us have never bought the notion that Ivory-bill habitat simply disappeared completely in the 40's (and when necessary, birds can linger in forest 'patches' surprisingly well, if left undisturbed), nor that the birds couldn't easily adapt to second-growth forest. Ivory-bill habitat afterall was home to 100s of avian species (not just the Ivory-bill), almost all of whom are still with us today.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Ivory-bill vs. Pileated Groove Size Study

This quite fascinating post from Steve Holzman appeared today on BirdForum. Steve and Paul Sykes (I assume this is the rather long-time IBWO skeptic 'Paul Sykes'?) have been conducting a study of any perceivable, measureable differences in Pileated and Ivory-bill bark scaling signs (
I've always been a bit skeptical of these possible differences, but this certainly sounds intriguing/hopeful) :

"We presented a poster at the Large Woodpecker Symposium in Brinkley, AR last week. I think after we do the statistics we'll put a paper together. For those unfamilar with the project, we found some grooves on bark-scaled trees in Arkansas that were above 3.8 mm in width. After looking throughout many southeastern states we found similar sign (likely Pileated Woodpecker (PIWO) work) and measured those grooves. We then measured hundreds of bills of both Ivory-billed (IBWO) and PIWO in museum collections. The grooves outside of AR coincided nicely with PIWO bills and the AR grooves coincided nicely with IBWO bills. While you couldn't say a particular tree was scaled by Pileated or IBWO just by looking at it, there does seem to be a groove width difference. Preliminary work suggests that Pileated's can't make a groove larger than 3.5 (and more are below 3.1 mm). This is a work in progress, but it does show some promise in identifying woodpecker species by examination of foraging sign. We also were able to measure the grooves on the inside of IBWO cavities in museum collections (only 4 cavities are in existence as far as we know). These also coincided with the AR grooves."



Saturday, November 05, 2005


-- A Little More History... --


While awaiting for something historical to happen in AR. (or elsewhere) it may be of value to review past historical IBWO information. I particularly like reading Arthur Bent's old accounts of various bird species, and here's just a little of what he had to write about the Ivory-bill back around 1940:

"The large size and striking color pattern, the mystery of its habitat, and the tragedy of its possible extinction combine to make the ivory-billed woodpecker one of peculiar interest to all Americans who have any pride in the natural resources of their country...
The ivorybill is primarily a bird of the great moss-hung southern swamps, where mature timber with its dying branches provides a bounteous food supply of wood-boring larvae, but its habits apparently vary in different parts of its range, for the birds I observed in Florida, although nesting in cypress swamp, did most of their feeding along its borders on recently killed young pines that were infested with beetle larvae. They even got down on the ground like flickers to feed among palmetto roots on a recent burn. In Louisiana, on the other hand, the nesting birds observed confined their activities to a mature forest of oak, sweetgum, and hackberry, and paid little attention to the cypress trees along the lagoons.
At what time the winter groups of ivorybills break up and spring activities commence is rather difficult to state, for there seems to be considerable irregularity to the breeding season. Judged from published records of its nests, the period of greatest activity would seem to be late March and early April... there are a few records of February nesting...
...once a pair has established a territory it seems to cling to that area winter and summer... These territories are doubtless several miles in diameter, but the tendency was for the birds to build up small communities in certain areas until in former years, when their distribution was normal, they were reported as fairly common by observers who happened upon one of these communities. On the other hand, there were perhaps always large areas of similar timber uninhabited by them, so that with equal truth by equally competent observers they were called extremely rare. How much farther they range during the winter than during the nesting season has not yet been worked out, but doubtless the area covered at times is considerably larger, and this accounts for sporadic records of birds in nonbreeding seasons in areas where no nests have been located and where no one has been able to find the birds subsequently.
The family groups apparently keep together until the following nesting season, and Mr. Kuhn has reported seeing groups of from three to five birds even as late as early March. Hoyt (1905) states that 'after the young leave the nest in April they and the parents remain together until the mating season in December.' " (from Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers by Arthur C. Bent)

Thursday, November 03, 2005


-- News Forthcoming or Blackout? --

Ivory-bill enthusiasts have all looked forward to the current resumption of the Cornell search in hopes of more news coming forth. Possibly though we should be prepared for the exact opposite effect: with so many of those most interested in the IBWO likely involved in the search and thus under the auspices of Cornell, they will have much LESS freedom to report information or even speculation than previously (I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing but just a fact of the situation). It's conceivable the next few months could be even slower for public news than the last couple months. David Luneau has previously written that he, and possibly others, plan to post updates on the search at The Nature Conservancy site:
It will be interesting to see just how frequent and informative any such reports are.

Otherwise, there are still many more talks/presentations on the Ivory-bill scheduled around the country so it is worth checking here from time to time for any coming to your area:

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


-- Cornell Presentations Available --

Four presentations from Cornell Ivory-bill researchers given at this year's American Ornithologists' Union's annual conference are available for video download at:


(need a broadband connection)


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