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April 28, 2005

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker -- Found!

Well, this is cool news.

Once a dominant creature of great Southern hardwood forest, its numbers dwindled as logging increased. The woodpecker inspired one of the first conservation efforts in the nation's history, but its seeming failure turned the ivory bill into a symbol of loss. The last documented sighting was in Louisiana in 1944.

But the ivory bill lived on as a kind of ghost in rumor and in numerous possible sightings. Despite lengthy expeditions, no sighting was confirmed, until Feb. 11, 2004.

On that date Gene M. Sparling III sighted a large woodpecker with a red crest in the Cache River refuge. Tim W. Gallagher at the Cornell Lab saw the report from Mr. Sparling on a Web site where he was describing a kayak trip.

Within two weeks Mr. Gallagher and Bobby R. Harrison of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., were in a canoe in the refuge, with Mr. Sparling guiding them.

Mr. Gallagher said he had expected to camp out for a week, but after one night out, on Feb. 27, he and Mr. Harrison were paddling up a bayou bounded on both sides by cypress and tupelo when they saw a very large woodpecker fly in front of their canoe.

When they wrote down their notes independently and compared them, Mr. Gallagher said, Mr. Harrison was struck by the reality of the discovery and began sobbing, repeating, "I saw an ivory bill."

Mr. Gallagher felt the same. "I couldn't speak," he said.

Once Mr. Gallagher convinced Dr. Fitzpatrick of Cornell, the effort to confirm the sightings began in earnest, and the result, published in the online version of Science, carried the names of 16 people from seven institutions who participated in a search that turned up seven confirmed new sightings and a blurry bit of videotape.

Actually, I'm not surprised that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has been "rediscovered." There have been a number of suspected sightings in recent years. And though pedigreed researchers from universities never turned up any Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers, locals always insisted that they had seen the birds.

Very cool. I guess they'll have to put it back into the field guides now.

Posted by Drew at April 28, 2005 11:47 PM

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Anybody who has read Walker Percy's Thantos Syndrome immediately understood this story today and why it was interesting. I was wondering if anybody else would notice!

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 29, 2005 12:02 AM

Mark, I haven't read it. Can you explain a little? The only Percy I've read (sort of) is "Lost in the Cosmos." I think I tried "The Moviegoer" once, but something must have prevented me from finishing it.

Posted by: Drew at April 29, 2005 08:37 AM

It's really an aside in the book but the demise of the woodpecker is mentioned (the book, like the Moviegoer, takes place in Louisiana). For some reason though, the fact about the woodpecker has always stuck with me.

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 29, 2005 08:43 AM