Woodpecker thought to be extinct rediscovered in eastern Arkansas
Friday, April 29, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Like a voice from the past, the two-note tap-tap of the ivory-billed woodpecker is ringing again in America.
The striking bird, last seen in 1944, has been rediscovered in the Big Woods area of Arkansas, scientists and conservationists reported Thursday.
"This is thrilling beyond words ... after 60 years of fading hope that we would ever see this spectacular bird again," John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, said at a news conference.
Since early 2004, there have been several independent sightings, including one caught on videotape, of one or more of the birds, Fitzpatrick said.
That video of the bird's 3-foot wingspan and distinctive black-and-white markings confirmed the presence of the creature that seemed to have vanished after logging destroyed its habitat.
The discovery of living examples of an animal believed to be extinct is rare, said Tess Present, director of science at the National Audubon Society. "Wow," she said. "This is tremendous."
Fitzpatrick's report was released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is publishing the study in the journal Science, and also was announced by the Nature Conservancy.
Alan Wormington of Ontario, Canada, said the discovery brought tears to his eyes. Wormington was part of a group that spent a month unsuccessfully trying to confirm reports of ivory billed woodpeckers in Louisiana in 2002.
"The implications are staggering," he said.
The ivory-billed woodpecker, one of the largest such birds in the world, is one of six North American bird species thought to have become extinct since 1880. The bird ranged widely across the southeastern United States at one time.
Once sought by Indians who believed that its bill possessed magical powers, the bird also was hunted for its feathers so they could adorn women's hats. Loss of habitat was its main threat, however.
The ivory bill -- sometimes called the white-back, pearly bill, poule de bois and even Lord God bird -- was known for the two-note rap of its bill as it ripped into tree bark in search of edible grubs and beetle larvae.
Fitzpatrick said it became known as the Lord God bird because people seeing it would exclaim "Lord God, look at that bird."
He said the researchers reported a similar reaction when they spotted it from a canoe last year. The woodpecker suddenly swooped in front and might even have landed on the canoe, but they all suddenly shouted: "Ivory bill!"
There have been anecdotal reports of the birds, but the last conclusive sighting in continental North America was in 1944, in northern Louisiana. A subspecies of the bird has been reported in Cuba.
With a 3-foot wingspan, the bird is larger than a pileated woodpecker, which is similar in appearance. Indeed, one of the researchers termed it a pileated woodpecker on steroids.
The Nature Conservancy, which has protected a large segment of land in Arkansas where the bird was spotted, reported that the first sighting came on Feb. 11, 2004, by Gene Sparling of Hot Springs, Ark.
Tim Gallagher of Cornell and Bobby Harrison of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., then went to the area with Sparling and also saw the bird. Other sightings followed, including one on April 25, 2004, in which David Luneau of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock videotaped the bird taking off from the trunk of a tree.
On the Net:
Nature Conservancy: http://www.tnc.org
Video clip of bird: http://wid.ap.org/video/woodpecker.mov