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Wednesday, 24 May 2006 00:00

The phoenix has crashed

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In 2005 the ivory-billed woodpecker rose from the ashes of extinction on the merits of an announcement from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The bird had been rediscovered in 2004 in the Big Woods of Arkansas.

Now, after more than two years of intense searching, Cornell has announced it has no new evidence to corroborate claimed sightings and four seconds of “Bigfoot” video used to substantiate that claim.

In April 2006 the ivory-billed swami looked into his crystal ball and predicted what Cornell’s official statement would be after the conclusion of this year’s search. Below is a comparison, excerpts from Cornell’s official press release are in italics.

Despite several sightings by search team members and tantalizing sound recordings, no definitive photos or video have been obtained.

There were teasing glimpses and tantalizing sounds, but the 2005-2006 search for the ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas has concluded without the definitive visual documentation being sought.

Remote microphones and cameras collected thousands of hours of recordings that will be reviewed by scientists at the Lab of Ornithology through a process aided by sophisticated sound-analysis software. In addition, on a number of occasions searchers heard possible ivory-bill “kent” calls and the bird’s distinctive double-rap drumming display. Other searchers glimpsed birds that could have been ivory-bills, but the fleeting nature of the encounters made it impossible to note field marks that would have made these “confirmed” sightings.

The Big Woods are big and the swamp is nearly inaccessible and quite inhospitable.

Even though we didn’t get additional definitive evidence of the ivory-bill in Arkansas, we’re not discouraged. The vastness of the forest combined with the highly mobile nature of the bird warrant additional searching.

We are undaunted by the lack of success during this season’s search, and we pledge that with your tax dollars we will intensify and enlarge the search next season.

Even though we didn’t grab the brass ring in our efforts to locate a roost or nest cavity, the information we gathered this season will be extremely informative for continued searching in Arkansas and other key states in the species’ historic range,” said Ron Rohrbaugh, director of the search for the Lab.

While the swami was pretty confident of his April prediction, there was a part of him that would have liked to have been proven wrong. It would have done this naturalist’s heart good to know that somehow the ivory-billed had survived against all odds.

Also there was (and is) the fear that if this grandly marketed (with D.C. press conferences) and highly publicized “scientific” moment which (too?) quickly became a rallying cry for conservation dollars didn’t pan out that conservation itself could be the loser.

After the 2005 announcement, the White House quickly proclaimed that $10 million would go to ivory-billed recovery. Critics pointed out that this $10 million wasn’t new money but was being taken from other conservation efforts. On May 19, the House was to vote on a budget amendment from Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona that would cut $300,000 allocated to ivory-billed research.

Conservation dollars are too precious and too hard to come by to be tied to the tail feathers of a bird that may not even exist.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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