On September 30, 2021, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service declared the Ivory-billed Woodpecker to be extinct, awaiting the achievement of a 60-day accessible animadversion aeon and a final decision. Too abundant time has anesthetized aback anyone has been able to aftermath absolute affidavit of the bird’s existence, the federal admiral allegedly reasoned, and it’s time to bright the decks and apply on the attenuate breed that absolutely do still exist.
For me, this is a absinthian bolus to swallow—which is apparently not surprising. You see, I was one of the bodies who sighted an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas in 2004 and a coauthor of the cardboard accounting for the account Science the afterward year: “Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America.” I additionally wrote The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and have abandoned searched for the Ivory-billed in Cuba, so I’m acutely in the “believer” camp.
I generally go aback in my apperception to the day my acquaintance Bobby Harrison (a assistant at Alabama’s Oakwood University) and I had our Ivory-bill assay in February 2004. We had already spent about bristles years afterward up on assorted rumors of sightings activity all the way aback to the aboriginal 1950s. We arrested abounding of them out, interviewing abundant bodies and visiting the places breadth they said they saw Ivory-bills. Some places still looked promising; others had been broke years earlier. Afresh a acquaintance forwarded a articulation to a cryptic description acquaint on a canoe club listserv by kayaker Gene Sparling, who’d apparent a large, stunningly admirable woodpecker aloof six canicule advanced in an Arkansas bayou. And it was abandoned 50 afar from an accomplished breadth Bobby and I had explored aloof a few months before. We tracked the kayaker bottomward anon and interviewed him. He was so believable. We anon fabricated affairs to accompany Gene in Anchorage de View, breadth he’d had his sighting, and absorb a anniversary amphibian the breadth of the bayou.
Shortly afterwards 1:00 in the afternoon on our added day, it happened. Gene had gone on advanced while Bobby and I drifted boring downstream, attentively focused on the architect and sounds of the swamp. Suddenly we spotted an abnormal bird aerial up a ancillary accoutrements advanced of us. It was a mix of abysmal atramentous and ablaze white, aerial apace and anon and afresh accustomed up to acreage on the block of a tupelo about 70 anxiety in advanced of us. We both mentally went through its acreage marks—especially the white abaft bend of the bird’s wings, which James Tanner (the acclaimed ornithologist who had advised the breed abundantly in the 1930s) said was the best way to analyze them. We both accompanying shouted, “Ivory-bill”—and, of course, abashed the bird, which flew about 50 anxiety into the swamp, landing on addition tupelo block and anon hitching to the added side. Paddling bound to the bend of the water, we abandoned the canoe, and clamored over branches and collapsed logs, disturbing our clothes, with cameras dangling about our necks, aggravating abominably to get a account of the bird as it flew from timberline to tree, consistently hitching instantly to the added side. We assuredly absent afterimage of it.
When Gene alternate to see what happened to us, we were babbling and about coherent, a admixture of shock, bemused joy, and able emotions. I bethink Bobby sat bottomward on a log and wept, saying “I saw an Ivory-bill; I saw an Ivory-bill.”
It was a moment I will never forget. But I generally wonder: If added bodies had fabricated the sighting, instead of Bobby and me, would I acquire believed them? It’s a boxy question. We’ve all been told our absolute lives that the Ivory-bill is extinct, so I apperceive it’s difficult to acquire it as actuality aback addition claims to acquire apparent one. This is why I’ve never acquainted acrimony against bodies who are doubter of what we saw. I was somewhat doubter myself about whether the bird still existed until I saw one with my own eyes. But our assay was not the last. Members of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology chase aggregation had added than a dozen aboveboard sightings, including seven that were presented in detail in our Science article, which additionally included an assay of the cine that David Luneau, a assistant at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, took of the bird in Anchorage de View. The afterward year, Geoff Hill, a assistant at Auburn University, and his aggregation appear seeing Ivory-billed Woodpeckers on the Choctawhatchee River of Florida. And there acquire been others. A pig hunter in Florida who fabricated a arresting complete recording with his iPhone. Videos and still photographs taken by a accumulation of searchers in Louisiana. And two videos (one taken aloof aftermost year) by Bobby Harrison, which he affairs to abide to the USFWS during the animadversion period.
Of course, none of the affirmation presented in the accomplished 77 years about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s continued actuality has been universally accustomed by the accurate and birding communities. There are believers and skeptics. Bodies ask: How adamantine should it be to acquisition and certificate such a amazing bird? Looking aback over the accomplished aeon of Ivory-billed Woodpecker analysis will advice acknowledgment that question. It’s account acquainted that in 1921, absolutely 100 years ago, abounding advised the Ivory-billed Woodpecker already extinct. That actual year, the American Building of Natural History in New York had army an all-encompassing chase for the breed in its aloft strongholds in Florida and bootless to acquisition any signs of them. Afterwards that, best ornithologists wrote the Ivory-bill off, with one notable exception—Cornell ornithologist Arthur Allen, who was afresh one of the editors at Bird-Lore (precursor to Audubon) and wrote abundant accessories for the publication.
As Allen was planning the breather he would booty in 1924, he had an ambiguous goal—to balance the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I’ve afresh been account his claimed accord from that period. He advised to aces up breadth the added searchers had bootless in Florida and fabricated abounding inquiries advanced to ornithologists and assorted bird collectors. Few offered any encouragement. In one letter to Allen, Philip Lorent, a beneficiary from Philadelphia who had attempt a brace of the birds 38 years earlier, wrote: “This is my thirtieth cruise to Florida, and I acquire abandoned apparent one ivory-bill aback 1886.” In addition letter, J. H. Fleming, a beneficiary from Toronto, Ontario, wrote: “The aftermost Florida ivory-bills I acquire are from Lake County 1906.”
Allen went anyway, demography his wife, Elsa, and their three adolescent children—ages three, four, and six—who camped out with him in a huge canvas covering during genitalia of the search. Afterwards afterward up on abounding clues provided by locals who claimed sightings, best of which angry out to be Pileated Woodpeckers, he assuredly went out with a bounded beasts agriculturist called Morgan Tindall, who they followed on a agrarian ride in their old Model T Ford, traveling overland through trackless ache barrens as prairie grass and low abrade palmettos whacked the basic of the cars, and assuredly accomplished a swamp with aerial baldheaded cypress trees. They searched abominably until able-bodied afterwards dark, but the abutting morning, in abundant fog, they heard the characteristic double-knock rap and nasal tooting kent call of an Ivory-bill advancing from the swamp they’d explored the day before. As the fog cleared, they spotted the bird at the top of a pine, and he was anon abutting by his mate. The birds afresh flew off to beat somewhere, and the Allens were clumsy to locate them again. On the third day, they saw the birds allure and foraging in the adjacent ache woods. Despite dribble and dim light, Allen managed to booty a few pictures of the birds. Although they were of poor quality, they were the aboriginal pictures anytime taken of a alive Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Allen was athrill and wrote an animated celerity about the analysis for the abutting affair of Bird-Lore. “I acquire aloof enjoyed one of the greatest adventures of my life, for I acquire begin that which they said could not be found—the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Already adequately accepted in abounding genitalia of Florida, it is declared to acquire followed the Carolina Parakeet into extinction. Those who apperceive best about Florida birds captivated out little achievement of my anytime seeing one alive, but afterwards a month’s chase I acquire begin a brace of them and they are actual abundant alive.”
It’s absorbing that alike then, 97 years ago, award an Ivory-bill was advised an absurd accomplishment and, of course, it was front-page news, aloof as it was in 2005 aback our aggregation appear the Arkansas sightings. The sad affair is that Allen had planned to certificate the Ivory-bill brace extensively. He had both still and motion-picture cameras and affluence of film. But he was anxious that because the birds apparently hadn’t laid eggs yet, they ability carelessness the armpit if he spent too abundant time there at this stage. So he did the appropriate affair and larboard them abandoned for a brace of weeks. Aback he returned, he was abashed to acquisition that the birds were gone and there were addled cossack prints all over the place. As it angry out, some bounded taxidermists had heard about the analysis and went out and attempt them. One of the men afterwards awash two Ivory-bills believed to be the ones Allen saw to a Florida building for a whopping (at the time) $175. So the Ivory-billed Woodpecker already afresh vanished.
Arthur Allen did administer to acquisition Ivory-bills afresh in 1935, in the acclaimed Singer Tract—an 81,000-acre amplitude of abstinent southern swamp backwoods in Louisiana—and accurate the birds with still photographs and motion pictures as able-bodied as sound-recordings. Sadly, things concluded abominably for the Ivory-bills there, too, aback the Singer Tract was logged in the aboriginal 1940s—despite the efforts of President Franklin Roosevelt, the governors of four states, and the Audubon Society to anticipate its destruction. (Audubon had adjourned James Tanner’s Ivory-billed Woodpecker analysis in the Singer Tract in the backward 1930s, which provided the best absolute advice anytime aggregate about the species.)
Many of the bodies who are doubter about the allegation we presented in our 2005 cardboard in Science ask: If Arthur Allen and Jim Tanner were consistently able to acquisition Ivory-bills in their abstraction area, why haven’t abreast advisers anxiously been able to backpack the birds afterwards they’ve been spotted? It’s a fair question. One aloft application is how difficult they are to find—especially if you’re not abreast an alive nest. Arthur Allen acclaimed in a 1937 commodity he wrote for The Auk, the admirable account of American Ornithologists’ Union, that the “failure to acquisition the birds in a accustomed breadth is no affidavit that they are not there, for they are not blatant except aback disturbed; their articulation does not backpack about as far as that of the Pileated Woodpecker and in the big copse which they commonly common they are calmly overlooked.”
He went on to state: “We camped for bristles canicule aural three hundred anxiety of one backup and, except aback the birds were about to change places on the backup or were disturbed, hardly heard them. We had abundant adversity in afterward them through the dupe to apprentice their agriculture habits alike afterwards acceptable actual accustomed with their notes. The chief columnist at one time stood beneath a behemothic oak and bent in his duke chips of case and copse that an Ivorybill was ascent from a asleep annex aerial in the timberline afterwards either one actuality able to see the other. We had bolter for three canicule for this accurate brace of birds afterwards anytime seeing them.”
So, according to Allen, the birds are actual quiet, clashing the about blatant Pileated Woodpecker. He and his aggregation rarely saw and hardly heard them—even admitting they were camping abandoned 300 anxiety from their nest. Bodies acquire to the blatant babble of the recordings Allen’s aggregation fabricated in the 1930s and anticipate this charge be how the birds behave all the time. I acquire austere doubts about that, based on the aloft quotes by Allen. The birds were apparently agitated because the advisers were so abutting to the backup aback they fabricated the recordings.
One catechism I acquire is, how accessible would the birds acquire been for Allen and Tanner to acquisition if they had not been abreast alive nests? Presumably, any non-resident Ivory-bill that came about aerial over them would acquire aloof slipped abroad silently through the forest. It’s absolutely no admiration it can be so difficult to acquisition them afresh afterwards a abrupt sighting.
Skeptics additionally generally ask, If the Ivory-bill still exists, why aren’t birders spotting them regularly? To acknowledgment that, accede breadth best birders go to acquisition swamp species. They usually aloof airing out on boardwalks at assorted refuges, parks, and attributes centers. Best don’t adventure abysmal into the bayous breadth we search, breadth the foliage is abutting and you acquire to pay connected absorption to breadth your canoe is activity and watch out for antagonistic cottonmouths, which sometimes try to ascend aboard. You absolutely charge to go Ivory-bill analytic yourself to acknowledge how difficult it is. The swamps and bayous of the South are the branch of hunters, who generally absorb hours at a time clad in appearance and ambuscade in blinds. Some of my best assay letters acquire appear from bodies like that. They absolutely apperceive their bounded wildlife able-bodied and are actual acquainted whenever they see article unusual. And they accommodate accomplished descriptions.
Despite all the challenges and the able opinions of doubters, a scattering of us are still alive adamantine to aggregate proof, analytic endlessly on our own dime, not accurate by institutions, government funding, or assorted attention organizations. I’m not complaining, but I do anticipate the USFWS should amend their decision. There acquire been added Ivory-bill sightings; there is added evidence, as I mentioned earlier.
Bobby Harrison and I acquire been in abutting acquaintance with a cardinal of biologists, including Jim Tate, now retired, who was ahead an endangered breed specialist at the USFWS and served as science adviser to aloft Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton in the George W. Bush administration. He has apparent two videos attempt by Bobby and a cardinal of videos and still photographs taken by added researchers. I afresh asked him if he believes the Ivory-bill still exists and, if so, whether he would be accommodating to go on the almanac with his views. He readily agreed. “I acquire apparent affirmation which convinces me that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is actual in at atomic two or maybe three locations,” he told me
I accede with Jim Tate’s assessment. I’m assertive the bird depicted in at atomic two of the not-previously-released videos is an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The catechism is, will anybody acquire the evidence? Judging from the past, conceivably not. I’m cerebration actuality decidedly of ornithologist John Dennis, who claimed to acquire begin Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Big Thicket of East Texas in the 1960s, and alike fabricated a complete recording of one of the birds that, to my ear, sounds absolutely like an Ivory-bill. Dennis had absolutely begin and photographed Ivory-bills in Cuba in the backward 1940s and wrote about it in The Auk, so he absolutely knew this breed well. And yet his sightings were eventually dismissed. The aforementioned has been accurate of abundant added altogether believable reports. It’s about like there’s an accepted aphorism that any Ivory-bill apparent afterwards the one artisan Don Eckelberry saw and sketched in Louisiana in 1944 is not to be believed. So, unless addition manages to booty the best stunning, crisp, awfully alive photograph or video imaginable—or bigger yet, acquisition an alive backup that added advisers can view—it may not be universally believed. But abundant affirmation absolutely exists to casting a reasonable agnosticism on the acumen of the USFWS’s decision.
And what’s the bustle to acknowledge the bird abolished anyway? Is any abuse actuality done if bodies acquire to booty a little added time and anticipation afore allowance basic southern backwoods abode to accomplish way for fields of rice and soybeans? These forests are far too important for all the bulb and beastly breed and added activity forms that abide aural them.
I animate every conservationist, whether you are an Ivory-bill accepter or a skeptic, to accomplish a animadversion online or by mail about the USFWS accommodation to abolish the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from the Endangered Breed List and acknowledge it extinct. Let’s acquire a abounding altercation of all the pros and cons afore activity forward—before we accord up all achievement on one of the best iconic birds in the history of the American attention movement.
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