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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

Friday, January 30, 2009


-- Rosen Essay --


Not Ivory-bill-focused, but nice essay from Jonathan Rosen here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


-- Hard and Soft Science --



Wednesday, January 28, 2009


-- Remembrance --


Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and a few days ahead (on the same day as this year's Super Bowl) comes the 6th anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. In their honor:


Wednesday, January 21, 2009


-- Mississippi Yearning --


Happy January 21st: The first day of the rest of America's life!.... :-)

Lately, a certain amount of chatter has referenced searches for the Ivory-bill in Mississippi. I've frequently noted MS. in the past as one of the top 3 states (IMO) for IBWO potential, along with Florida and Louisiana. FL. and LA. have received so much past focus, that in some ways MS. with less historical attention, yet much good inter-connected habitat, is all the more attractive. Some of the recent, ongoing work being carried out there is outlined here:


(not included above is work being carried out by Cornell's mobile team or other searchers at the far south end of the state, which may even harbor the best habitat)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


-- NEW Day In America --

Jan.20, 2009 (...no IBWO news)

Couple of tributes in honor of today's inauguration:

...and lastly, a 60's classic that just feels fitting:


Monday, January 19, 2009


-- Pressing On --


The previously-cited open access article is swirling around the Web on science sites, blogs, and news pages. I'm always a bit (pleasantly) surprised when these open-access IBWO studies get such widespread attention. I s'pose it has something to do with the controversial nature of the topic and the general interest this bird attracts (some of PLoS's problems in dealing with Mike Collins' paper I believe have to do with the controversial nature of the subject matter as well --- a great thing about science is that it encourages putting all ideas/evidence out there on a table for all to shine a light on and judge, rather than assuming the correctness of a few, or even assuming that 'truth' can always be fixed in stone).

For the last two years I've seen routine skeptical remarks to the effect that no serious, or credible, or intelligent birder/scientist any longer considers the prior IBWO claims valid, nor sees any possibility for the bird's persistence. In actuality, amidst wide pessimism, there have always been scientists who view the species' existence as possible, and many others who are simply sitting on the fence awaiting more study --- they just don't happen to be as loud and vocal as the naysayers on the Web who feed off each other to render an impression of unanimity when there is none. A skeptic/commenter to a post below chimes in that this whole affair "has ruined so many reputations".... almost causes one to wonder how many reputations would be ruined if the Ivory-bill were to be conclusively documented?

Sunday, January 18, 2009


-- Catching Up --


The latest open-access internet paper related to the Ivory-bill search making the rounds comes from the University of Georgia and concludes that as few as 5 pairs of Ivory-bills from the early 1900's are all that would be needed for the species to subsist until today. The paper attempts to evaluate the longevity of small bird populations, specifically for "rare large-bodied woodpeckers," given various demographic assumptions. They analyzed various scenarios (in the worse case, extinction resulted within 7 years) to demonstrate the higher-than-acknowledged possibility of the Ivory-bill persisting to today (of course for some of us, the possibility of IBWO persistence is obvious from common sense and the examples of other creatures, without all the statistics and empirical analysis applied ;-)).
The research was funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, some of whom are directly associated with the IBWO Recovery Team, so I'm sure the paper's conclusions won't be taken seriously by many who have largely made up their minds on the subject... to whom the authors may one day say, 'we told ya so.' Summary of paper here, if you don't want to read the full academic version.

Speaking of online papers, my current understanding is that Mike Collins' IBWO flight dynamics paper may yet appear over at PLoS at some point (working through some administrative matters) though I don't know a timetable (if Mike or anyone else knows otherwise or has more details feel free to send along a comment/clårification).

Thursday, January 15, 2009


-- 4 Months Left and Counting --


By April 30 of this year it will be 4 years since Cornell made their incredible announcement beginning this long, bumpy, winding journey. Essentially, there are about 4 months left to move the Ivory-bill agenda forward. If nothing is found in these 4 months more substantial than what is already on record in support of Ivory-bill persistence, then official searching, funding, and most interest will die a solemn death (independent searchers will carry on their efforts as money and time allows). More individual sightings, blurry video, and auditory recordings won't do (so proclaimeth from on-high the skeptically-inclined). An indisputable photo or carcass are needed (...where is Mason Spencer when we need him -- juuust joking); or at bare minimum, a prolonged sighting by multiple credible observers.

By April's end this blog will hit about 1000 posts for its lifetime... averaging (to my amazement) about 5 posts per week since inception, seeking to inform, entertain, and... yes, annoy, certain readers, and forever preaching "patience" for the strenuous task of documenting individual birds in difficult, expansive terrain. The final push is on now to attain the level of documentation that will satisfy all, and time is running short, for the searches, for patience, and... for the birds.

I'll be busy with a conference this weekend, and may not post the next few days ('til Sun. evening anyway?), so please, pleeease all you searchers, whatever you do, DON'T find the Ivory-bill this weekend, okay! ;-))

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


-- Chill Out --


Not too surprisingly I've gotten some inquiries about the post/no-post flap from a couple days back, including one suggestion that perhaps it was just a hoax or some sort of gambit to re-boost interest in the IBWO. I can safely assure folks it was not any sort of hoax, but a sincere report of possible sightings of the Ivory-bill at a non-disclosed location, which is being further pursued. Beyond that, I'll likely have nothing more to say about it unless the parties involved have more to report publicly. For now, there are at least a couple other claims I'm probably more interested in getting additional details on than the one yanked. And with only ~ 4 months left in this season's search, one hopes more details will be forthcoming.

Anyway, it's been a rough few days; time to just chill out with Matt Harding's old viral video:


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


-- Odds 'n Ends --



Fish and Wildlife biologist Bob Russell promises he is completing an updated Top 10 list of places to look for Ivory-bills, and may even throw in a Top 10 list of where to look for the Eskimo Curlew as a bonus (...you know, for those who will be bored stiff once the IBWO is documented ;-) The possible two-fer that has always interested a lot of people, and remains on some folks' mind, would be finding Bachman's Warbler while looking for the Ivory-bill (there have been a few suggestive leads for Bachman's last couple of years, but, surprise-surprise, nothing conclusive).

Monday, January 12, 2009


-- Your Shot of Adrenalin For Today --


As I said once before, NOTHING in the Ivorybill arena is ever simple... grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.......


Again, it is a sad situation we are in that people are made to feel so reluctant about the public release of even general information.

And, yet another little bit on the Florida mangroves, courtesy of a reader who prefers to remain anonymous:

As he/she recalls it, one sighting came from a ranger during a flyover of the Everglades mangroves last year, during which the ranger believes an Ivory-bill was spotted in flight below the plane; and possibly there was another report from a fisherman in the same area as well. "This area of mangrove forest is huge with some very, very large trees. The largest of these are the Black Mangroves that are supposed to be up to 100 feet tall;" and the writer stresses the age and density of this virgin forest, cautioning that it is not an area for independent searchers, unfamiliar with the terrain, to attempt to traverse on their own.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


-- Last Bit On Mangroves For Now --


An emailer asks for more details on last season's claims from Florida mangrove areas, but... I have no more details. The little bit I heard in private emails lacked elaboration, and gave no indication that the reports were taken very seriously at the time (although I believe one sighting came from a wildlife officer with some credibility).

All of this points to one of the annoying aspects of the Ivory-bill saga. The scorn of skeptics seems to have produced a "chilling effect" on the disclosure of Ivory-bill reports. Those reports that are easily-explained-away upon examination or otherwise NON-credible need no publicity. But there remains a residue of reports from credible or potentially credible sources that also seem to be swept out of public view.

Around the Web I see frequent skeptical remarks to the effect that "NO evidence" has been found for IBWOs after all of this searching --- but EVIDENCE HAS BEEN GATHERED; the debate is over its validity and how much to publicly release, not whether ongoing evidence exists. A decision seems to have been made, following so much criticism and ridicule, to disclose very few reports or details, unless a very high standard is met. In short, heated skepticism has had a "chilling effect" on the very reporting of anything less than solid evidence at this point (which in turn leads cynics to conclude falsely that there has been NOTHING to report).
Generally speaking, "chilling effects" are not a good thing for science. It's as if NASA stopped talking about manned moon landings because moon-hoax conspiracy theorists take everything NASA presents and twists it around to be 'smoke-and-mirrors,' faking the moon landings; so why put out more material and subject oneself to such reproach. Indeed, in this 'Alice-through-the-looking-glass' world, skeptics now use all sightings, not accompanied by photographic evidence, as yet further evidence of extinction: if 100 new sightings occur, STIIIIIIIIILL with no photograph, it must be confirmation of extinction in the cynical view.

I don't really expect IBWOs will be found in mangrove forest, and don't wish to raise hopes unduly for that particular habitat, but, having said that, it would be delicious irony if it turned out that Ivory-bills were cavorting merrily around in mangroves for decades while humans bumbled through bottomland woods lookin' for 'em for no other reason than prior humans postulating this was the only place they could be.

On a sidenote, Bill Pulliam's latest take on the IBWO saga here:


Friday, January 09, 2009


-- Mangrove Forest --


Last year there were a few rumors of Ivory-bill claims for mangrove areas of SW Florida. I'm not sure how seriously anyone took them, but Cornell did eventually send their 'mobile team' in for a quick look-see. Apparently they were intrigued enough with what they saw to go back this season for more serious exploration (there are a few distant IBWO historical records for mangrove areas). Were Ivorybills to be found in those mangrove forests it would blow open the already-flimsy notion that Ivory-bill habitat was totally destroyed in the 1940's, or that we even understand the needs/requirements of this species.

When skeptics say the Ivory-bill hasn't been found for 60 years, the false implication is that it's been looked for, for 60 years running, when in fact, until recently, it's been looked for relatively little in many areas; the mangrove forests represent a shining example of an area that has barely been touched. Southern Illinois and western Tennessee, other areas being further searched this season, likewise represent locales not given much serious attention historically. Were Ivory-bills to be documented in any of these regions it would offer an easy explanation for why they hadn't been detected in 60 years: nobody was much looking for them there! --- people have a strong tendency not to find things they aren't looking for...

And so today we have people looking for IBWOs where there is great habitat (as we define it), but where much searching has already taken place, and in places of more uncertain habitat, but where, by sheer neglect, the birds might reside undetected for a lengthy time.
There are swamp areas of great interest adjacent to the Florida mangroves also being searched, but if IBWOs were found in the mangrove forests themselves, against expectation and general tradition, it would require people to toss out much of what they think they know about Ivory-bills and begin anew (...of course for some folks, documenting Ivorybills ANYwhere will require such a re-evaluation).

A couple of websites with some further mangrove information:



I don't have any direct experience with mangrove forests; if anyone directly familiar with them wishes to comment, pro or con, about their suitability for large woodpeckers, either in Florida, or elsewhere around the world, I'd be curious to hear.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


-- Monty Python Revisited --


M: The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extinct; it's a goner; it's pushin' up daisies as we speak, I tell ya...

J: But... but 100s of people say they've seen one. How can you be so blimey sure Ivory-bills are no more?

M: Those people are mistaken, each and every one of 'em, mistaken I tell you; they seen somethin' else --- you CAN'T see what don't exist, so them that say they seen it, MUST be mistaken, don't ya get it... simple logic.

J: So, the bird is extinct, becuz no one's seen it, and those that say they have is all mistaken, 'cuz they MUST be, 'cuz it doesn't exist; is that it?

M: Now you're gettin' it, matey; pure reasoning don't ya see...

J: But I'm just not clear, how can one be so sure Ivory-bills have forever passed?

M: Look bloke, 60 years ago their home, their habitat, their domicile, was destroyed, ravaged, turned to rubble; they got nowhere to live, nowhere to hang their hat, so they exited this world; there simply couldn't be any of 'em left around today. Use your noggin' for gosh sakes. No home, no bird.

J: But LOTS of critters, including LOTS of woodpeckers, lived in that habitat, and they're still around now. The Pileateds are here; why must there be no more Ivory-bills?

M: Don't ya know nuthin'... the Pileated was adaptable; the Ivory-bill was a 'specialist;' he couldn't change with the times by jove, so now he's deceased, he's expired, lacking a pulse, he resides in your dreams ONLY. You're stretchin' my patience here, boy.

J: Ahhh, the Ivory-bill was a specialist, and the Pileated was not, hmmmm?

M: Yes chap, see it's not rocket-science; look around, Pileateds are all over, but Ivory-bills are nowhere to be found, 'cept spinning in their grave... that proves it... they were too specialized for their own good.

J: Ahhh!, so we know the Ivory-bill was a specialist and the Pileated wasn't because the former is gone and the latter is still around, which must mean that the Ivory-bill was a specialist and the Pileated wasn't because....

M: Yes, yes, now you're gettin' it; you're comin' around finally; the logic is sinkin' in. The Ivory-bill he's not hidin', he's not sleeping out-of-sight, he's without existence don't ya see, gone to that great big cypress swamp in the sky, DEAD as a doornail. Bye bye birdie.

J: So I guess anyone who says he's seen an Ivory-bill is just plain wrong, huh?

M: You got it... he has to be wrong, 'cuz, hey, THAT'S science for ya!!

J: Well, thanks for clearing that all up... now, about this dead parrot you sold me. . . . .


Wednesday, January 07, 2009


-- Latest From Cornell --


Cornell has new update on this season's search getting underway now, with special emphasis on southwest Florida including mangrove forests from which certain rumors emanated last year; several other key areas of SW Fla. also included as well, as a 7-member 'mobile search team' enters some of the most difficult terrain yet tackled. These searches will go at least through mid-March. Other teams will be searching "eastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, southern Illinois, the Florida panhandle, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and east Texas." All these areas have produced various claims/rumors in the last year, except for east Texas from which I've not heard anything very positive recently (but I may have missed something, or else the sheer size of the Big Thicket area may simply require further efforts). Mississippi and South Carolina are singled out for some special emphasis, but clearly that's subject to change.

The update ends as follows:

"The draft recovery plan will be finalized in 2009. In the future, we will focus conservation actions in locations where an active roost or nest is located, or other new information provides a compelling reason to implement additional tasks identified in the recovery plan.
"If no birds are confirmed, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will not send an organized team into the field next year. 'We remain committed to our original goal of striving to locate breeding pairs,' says Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick. 'We will continue to accept and investigate credible reports of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and to promote protection and restoration of the old growth conditions upon which this magnificent species depended across the entire southeastern United States'.”

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


-- Picture This --


A variety of pictures/images of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from around the Web ...sorry, nothing recent :-(

1. http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0eZBfES2C1dGA/340x.jpg

2. http://www.memphisflyer.com/binary/b712d0a0/Ivory-billed_woodpecker_specimen.jpg

3. http://www.birding.com/images/ivory.jpg

4. http://www.atchafalayarevisited.com/images/20050429--12827.jpg

5. http://www.ngsprints.co.uk/images/M/962074.jpg

6. http://farm1.static.flickr.com/113/265999141_2b0e2ad530.jpg?v=0

7. http://www.taxidermy4cash.com/dalwood.jpg

8. http://www.birdingadventuresinc.com/site/images/Ivory-billedwoodpecker.jpg

9. http://lh5.ggpht.com/_8bX4y7iwMvo/R5aOVP_yl_I/AAAAAAAABmc/0ifMgmLUwhU/Boston+12-08+020.JPG

10. http://research.calacademy.org/science_now/academy_research/images/ivory_billed_woodpecker_specimens.jpg

11. http://southwestpaddler.com/photos/IBW001-306a.jpg

12. http://www.bigcountryaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/03/IBWO_web_tanner_pix1.jpg

13. http://www.mnh.si.edu/museum/news/woodpecker/images/specimens.jpg

14. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/sciencestories/2006/images/lost_found01.jpg

15. http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/711/galleries/photos/ibw2/image_preview

16. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/images/1441.jpg

17. http://www.galleryone.com/images/brenders/brenders_-_ivory_billed_woodpecker.jpg


Sunday, January 04, 2009


-- Commentary --


The previous referenced paper concerns itself primarily with the question of with what probability should IBWOs have been detected by now (given the effort put forth) if they persisted in the White River or Bayou De View regions of Arkansas. And skeptics will actually find much to latch onto in the analysis done, as the authors acknowledge at one point: "...given this search effort, if more than a very few Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were present in the search area during the surveys, their presence should have been detected."

There does however remain the significant possibility of just 1-2 IBWOs inhabiting the areas surveyed and going undetected (and of course Cornell's initial claims for the Big Woods were simply for the presence of at least a single bird).

The authors note that for the searches to be even "moderately effective" the Ivory-bill would need to have a "large" home range (exceeding 5000 hectares -- to increase the chance of encounter with an observer), and then go on to say the following :

"Home-range size is unknown for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. During his studies, Tanner (1942) followed birds and found that, during the nesting season, individuals often traveled >2.0 km from the nest, with one record of a bird traveling 4.0 km from its nest in the course of daily activities. Based on anecdotal information, winter ranges (when current Ivory-billed Woodpecker surveys are done) were much larger than nesting-season ranges (Tanner 1942). From this, if winter home ranges are equivalent to a circle with a 4.0 km radius, home range size would be 50 km2 (5000 ha), which would produce posterior probabilities of extinction slightly under 80% in both BDV [Bayou de View] and WR [White River]. From this analysis, we conclude that much greater search efforts will be required to obtain a level of 90% or greater for posterior probabilities of extinction."

I think the 'home range' argument is a bit tenuous (and could almost be argued in an opposite way), but not worth niggling over here.

and later, this:

"The search effort required to have a high degree of certainty that a species occurs (or does not occur) in an area becomes extremely large for populations of 10 or fewer individuals. Our analysis of the search effort for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the White River and Bayou de View, assuming a uniform distribution of birds if they are present, suggest that if birds were present the actual number of individuals was very low (N<2). With this assumption it is unlikely that birds were still present in the intensively searched area but not seen during surveys. However, below, we present distributions other than the uniform, which suggest higher probabilities that the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers may still persist in White River and Bayou de View."

and finally toward the end, this:

"The Ivory-billed Woodpecker surveys we considered included only ~12% of the forested habitat in the overall search area in Arkansas, so our analysis does not enable us to assess the likelihood that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are extinct in the wider search area, much less across the currently presumably suitable habitat within the species’ historic range. Based on a statistical assessment using time series of historic sightings, Roberts (2006) argued that a declaration of extinction is premature for this species."

Just a couple of points I'll make about the study: As noted above, the paper's analysis ONLY covers work completed in Arkansas, and regardless of the outcome there, essentially argues for the need of similarly intense efforts carried out in other prospective areas of the Southeast before conclusions about IBWO persistence be drawn with any assurance. Also, this analysis operates on the assumption of no "valid detections" occurring during the period of study... an assumption that may be drawn for empirical reasons, but which may be totally false, as there were in fact both sightings claims and possible auditory encounters over that time period. Obviously, just 1 or 2 "valid detections" hugely alters the resultant statistics.

The take-home message here is what we've already known for a long time: that it is exceedingly difficult to demonstrate with great confidence the extinction of a species being repeatedly reported in vast habitat. Some folks, unfortunately, continue to think it easy.
The upside for conservation, should the Ivory-billed Woodpecker ever be conclusively documented, is massive --- the "charisma" of the species alone would send tremendous ripples through the conservation establishment, but beyond that, the vast habitat tracts to be saved would have impact on many other species as well... possibly more impact than carried by saving any other currently endangered North American bird. One ought not risk dismissing such an upside prematurely. As the authors note early in their article, "Rediscovery of “extinct” species occurs often enough to give one pause about making premature pronouncements." Indeed it does, indeed it does...

But enough academic rambling, now for your sheer viewing entertainment... some BennyHillified hummingbirds!


-- Designating Extinction --


New open access article available:

One of the common rhetorical grenades lobbed at the Ivory-bill search is that funding for endangered species is a zero-sum game with money spent on the IBWO being money lost to species that may have a better chance of profiting from such funding. Endangered Hawaiian birds are often used as an example for this argument.

Using Hawaiian birds as a model, a new paper out (from Cornell and other authors) appears to somewhat address this line of thinking here, focusing on the evidence needed for extinction designation.

Thanks to "PORCAR" over at IBWO Researchers Forum for pointing this paper out.

(I haven't had time to fully read/digest the piece, so may or may not have more to say about it later.)

Friday, January 02, 2009


-- Getting the Year Off to a Good Start --


More off-topic stuff (...early in year; time just for fun) :

THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! to whoever created this: The "BennyHillifier" available here. (turns any YouTube video into a Benny Hill routine).

And my contribution here (YouTube's famous "Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo" set to the beat).

Thursday, January 01, 2009


-- Bird Blogs... --


In the event that one of your New Year's resolutions is to read more bird blogs (and, in the event you have about 10 hours free to sort through these!) John Trapp has posted his latest updated roll of (~300) bird weblogs here.

As an aside, just noticed that Jonathan Rosen's elegy to birdwatching, "The Life of the Skies," is newly out in paperback.

And lastly this, from the Too-fun-not-to-pass-along Dept.:

Cat and parrot


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