Biologist aids in search for 'extinct' bird

Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Dr. Bill Eddleman checked for birds at Trail of Tears State Park. Eddleman has been selected to search for the ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas. (Fred Lynch)

Bill Eddleman hopes to catch a glimpse of a bird that has mystified researchers for nearly 60 years.

The Southeast Missouri State University biology professor will spend the remainder of his Christmas break searching for the ivory-billed woodpecker in southeast Arkansas.

On Monday, Eddleman left for the White River National Wildlife Refuge to join a crew searching for the bird, which was thought to have been extinct.

"It would be a real kick to see it," Eddleman said. "It would be like seeing something come back from the grave."

The last reported sighting of the bird was in 1944, but then a kayaker spotted the ivory-billed woodpecker in February 2004 near the White River National Wildlife Refuge. For the past year, bird-watchers have been flocking to this unique habitat in Arkansas to search for the storied woodpecker.

Eddleman, a bird-watcher for 30 years, will join a seven-man crew in the bottomland hardwood forests of the wildlife refuge. He applied to volunteer through the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, which is coordinating the search.

"They haven't really given me a whole lot of details of what I'll be doing," he said.

Eddleman does know the search will consist of sitting for long periods of time and scanning the habitat for the ivory-billed woodpecker.

"We were initially supposed to search in canoes, but it's so dry down there that I imagine a lot of the search will be on foot," Eddleman said.

Since the most recent sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker in 2004, multiple other sightings have been reported and out-of-focus video footage was taken. An audio recording thought to be the bird's call has also been captured.

Eddleman thinks he was selected to search for the ivory-billed woodpecker because of his experience working in wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests.

Based on studies from the 1930s, the birds are only able to survive in habitats such as bottomland hardwood forests, which are only found in southeast Arkansas.

"It's going to be very exciting to search for the ivory-billed woodpecker," Eddleman said. "Because it disappeared from view 60 years ago, there was only one detailed study of the bird in the wild. We know very little about it otherwise."

Standard with any environmental study, any photograph Eddleman might capture of the ivory-billed woodpecker during the search will become the property of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

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