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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 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.

Current IBWO Sighting Claims:
Bird Forum member claims to have heard an IBWO in 2000 at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi: the post.

Another Bird Forum user, William Smith, is posting updates from a search. He claims to have seen one from his car on this page, date Friday, September 16, 2005. The area is at an undisclosed location in Florida. He says that he does not want to get a photograph initially, just document the bird's presence.

What does anyone think about all this?
I believe both of them.

I also hope the Florida guy has good judgment.
The Stennis Space Center (very near the 1999 Pearl River IBWO claims) has been the site of several IBWO reports over the years, so nothing too unusual about that -- however, I believe it is difficult for the lay public (i.e., if you're not an employee) to get access to the best habitat there.

As to Bill Smith's claims, Florida is certainly one of the most likely states to harbor IBWOs, but clearly more details will be needed from him regarding his reports. I think it is important for readers to realize that IBWO reports showing up on the internet now are but a tiny fraction of all reports being turned in to various officials through multiple venues. 90-99% of all reports in the past have been readily dismissable as mistaken IDs (usually by folks who had no great familiarity with Pileateds) or hoaxes -- what most people don't realize is that with the volume of claims over the years the 1-5% that have some remaining credibility still represent a sizeable number that can't be summarily dismissed -- as Jerry Jackson has more-or-less argued in the past, the 'law of large numbers' comes into play at some point: with so many claims that can't be demonstrated false, the greater the likelihood of some being true.
Let me start...I really like this blog and the enthusiasm. We all want the Ivory Bill to still be in existence. Even as a small child, I was intrigued by this bird as I am today. I first "saw" it as a stuffed specimen on display at Sapsucker Woods at the Cornell
Lab of Ornithology back around 1980 when I was 11. It saddened me then, as it does now, that it went extinct because of habitat destruction.

I just can't believe the "evidence". It is flimsy. I was soooo excited when Cornell...of which I am a supporting member of the Lab of Ornithology...announced they found the bird. I trusted them...but I was shocked to only recently find out how flimsy the evidence is. I saw the video originally and was very excited. But until recently I was unaware of how much white pileateds can show on their wings. Knowing this I just don't think the evidence from the video is enough to support their claims...no way, especially with the reports of at least one Pileated with more white than normal in the same area!

Show me the picture...or video...just as with the Tanner expedition. Why is the behavior of these birds so different now? There were very rare back then...only 22 left estimated in 1935 when they shot video and photographed the bird.

Point by point...here is where I respectively disagree...again...I commend your blog and your intentions and especially your hope!

Number 1) Big woods...
Yes the woods are "big"...but hunters and fishermen have combed through the woods time and time again. If there were a remnant ivory bill population, there is no question we would know. It would have been reported many times.

Number 2)
I don't agree. We have much definitive video of Pileateds and also….. what did they know in 1935 that we don't know now? They have world renown woodpecker expert Martjan Lammertink on the team. He should have been able to find some roost holes by now...they were able to in 1935. I fear they just don't exist....

Number 3) This one is the one that really got me. If ANY of these observers said they had a really good look for several minutes...(especially 2 or more people at once)...Then I would believe...I would trust them. However...numerous "fleeting" glimpses? Only one main field mark identified...the white wing pattern. Pileateds could show this depending on the viewing angle. I don't care who identifies this bird...they just need to get a good look. You don't need to be an expert birder. Also, I really think that this search team could be suffering from what is called “group think”. I see it all the time in my field…meteorology…weather forecasting. We can fall victim to this sometimes…especially with bigger decisions. That is why we bring other staff into the forecast effort when it is a big storm to get different perspectives. Debate is healthy.

Number 4) As an avid birder...I disagree. I love Bald Eagles and I must admit that I have ,on a few occasions, confused (at first) size between soaring red-tail hawks and eagles…often hard to initially tell at certain ranges and angles. With closer and more lengthy views it easily becomes definitive! Eagles have 7 foot wing spans…red tails about 4. Big difference. Ivory Bill = 21 inches….Pileated 17 inches…much closer. Fleeting glimpses…through trees and deep forest. Not definitive enough. Interesting but not definitive.

Number 5) No proof…last proof was in 1944. No other records accepted.

Anyway, I really HOPE I am wrong…but as a scientist by trade….more evidence is needed for rigorous proof.

I can’t believe that the Arkansas Audubon Society accepted this as a record.
That was surprising to me.

If the team turns up definitive proof it will be a miracle…a true miracle that a remnant population existed undetected all these years in this day and age. I am still holding out hope though…always hopeful.

Keep up the good work…I will check this blog often….I know if there is more proof it probably will be here first…..
Dave Nicosia has mirrored my thoughts exactly. I particularly want to emphasize that I find size to be extremely difficult to judge in the field, especially with a fleeting glimpse. I've fooled myself over and over with that in my 40 years of birding. I've mistaken Kestrels for Peregrines, for instance, and crows for ravens. Despite having both American Crows and Fish Crows in my neighborhood and watching them for years, I just cannot tell them reliably by size or flight pattern. Perhaps others can. I've also seen birders much better than I make field identification mistakes, even with a leisurely look. (Cyberthrush, I can give you names.) If you look at some of my other posts on IBWO's and PIWO's, you'll see, looking at the literature, that those two species actually just overlap in size at the extremes. The IBWO is, or was, much heavier than the PIWO. I'd say this is WAY harder to judge than some of the differences between raptors, or, I'd say, the difference between a crow and a raven. Perhaps it is comparable to the latter judgment--easy given a good look, iffy given a brief look.

FYI: I'm a pretty skilled birder, have seen about 515 species in North America, 1,000 worldwide. I've done a few good Wildathons, identified about 90 species in one day in my area--respectable, but not record-breaking. I've identified some good rarities on my own (verified with photographs or detailed descriptions), and I've missed others that were right in front of me. I've made any number of bad calls on bird identification. As I said, I've also seen better birders than I do that.

Another point is that not just hunters and fishermen have been tromping around in that part of Arkansas, but birders. Here's a good quote from ESPN Outdoors article by Keith Sutton:
I am an avid birder myself, and since 1977 I've served as compiler for the White River National Wildlife Refuge Christmas Bird Count, an annual event sponsored by the National Audubon Society. I've long touted this area as one of the top birding hotspots in the South. But it always has been extremely difficult to find people willing to assist with the bird count.

That article makes excellent points about the importance of hunters and fishermen for conservation.

I'd also put in the point that many duck hunters are pretty good birders--they have to pay attention to bird identification in order to comply with bag limits. My father was an avid duck hunter in his youth in Oklahoma, and he's the one who started me on birding. He has told me how, in the 1930's and 1940's, all the duck hunters learned to identify Whooping Cranes in order to save the population that migrated through Oklahoma. I think not most, but many, duck hunters could identify an Ivory-bill. Dave Kullivan, a hunter, was taken seriously about his Pearl River sighting, as he should have been. It just seems so very, very odd that no hunters had reported Ivory-bills from the White or Cache NWR's. (There is that intriguing report from 1986 in Jerome Jackson's book that Cyberthrush mentioned. That sort of thing gives me a glimmer of hope.)

So I remain skeptical, but a little hopeful. I hope to see an unambiguous photograph or video this winter from Cornell, but I'm not losing any sleep over it.
Regarding fisherman and hunters in Arkansas and the IBWO, Mary Scott in her Web site states that since the announcement she has been contacted by a few sporstmen in Arkansas who claim to have seen IBWOs in the White River and Cache NWRs. But they all requested anonimity and refuse to reveal locations.

There was at least one person in Brinkley who came forward. You can find her messages in Birdforum, on the thread "Updates on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker", poster by the name "fishing4clues". the following link will take you to her first message there:


Summary of her story: The poster, who identified herself as 37 year-old Wanda Ellis of Brinkley, Arkansas, claims that while on a Aug. 1999 fishing trip to the Dagmar WMA with her family she saw a woodpecker that she had never seen before. She contacted the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission ( AGFC ) in Dec. 1999. She says she met Gene Sparling in Jan. 2000, who was introduced to her by an officer of the AGFC who said that Mr. Sparling was a birder interested in following up her sighting. She further claims that in Sept 2002 Mr. Sparling came to see her at her working place and in front of 2 of her co-workers said that he had seen the bird and that they were going to be filming the area in hopes of seeing the bird in flight.

PS: She also said that from her description the AGFC officers identified the bird as a possible IBWO which, according to Ms. Ellis is what interested Sparling in following up on her story.
Interesting, but brief, account of a sighting of a leucistic Pileated from Illinois, on the Birding is not a Crime blog.

Great title for a Blog!
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