Archived Outdoors

The Naturalist's Corner

Happy new ivory-billed search in 2009

May old woodpeckers be forgot and never photoshopped.

A $50,000 reward has been offered for a definitive photo of an ivory-billed woodpecker. I’m thinking that photo might be worth a buck or two more.

Should old woodpeckers be forgot and left to auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear

Forauld lang syne

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We’ll take a cup of kindness yet

For old ivory-bills

Documenting the “Lord God” bird has proved as vexing for the apostles from the Cathedral of Birding, a.k.a., the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as documenting papal infallibility has for the Vatican. And this year there is a hint of resignation coming from Cornell.

After the flush of its announcement of the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, Cornell had this to say in its 2004-2005 report, “The bird captured on video is clearly an Ivory-billed Woodpecker,” said John Fitzpatrick, the Science article’s lead author, and director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. “Amazingly, America may have another chance to protect the future of this spectacular bird and the awesome forests in which it lives.”

The 2005-2006 summary was a little more guarded, “In summary, the visual and acoustic evidence collected during 2005–06 gives us some hope that a small number of IBWOs may persist in the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas.”

Then came the 2006-2007 season. “The Lab and its partners concluded the 2006–07 field season in Arkansas at the end of April with no additional definitive evidence of ivory-bills to complement the data gathered in 2004 and 2005.”

The 2007-2008 season was summed up — “Searchers documented more possible sightings and possible ivory-bill double knocks heard, but the definitive photograph, like the bird itself, remained elusive.”

And as Cornell takes to the woods this season — “If no birds are confirmed, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will not send an organized team into the field next year.”

And surely you’ll have your double knock

And surely I’ll have my kent

And there’ll be some keen cavities

For old ivory-bills

I guess Cornell has grown weary of those Arkansas winters and this year is going to sacrifice by concentrating on sunny Florida — “Up till now, we’ve concentrated on bottomland hardwood swamps and forests,” says Ron Rohrbaugh, director of the Lab’s Ivory-billed Woodpecker Research Project. “But there’s a huge area of pristine mangrove forest in southern Florida that could support ivory-bills. In fact, the historical record shows the birds did live there and that collectors took specimens from the area. Although there haven’t been any confirmed sightings there recently, the great habitat certainly warrants a closer look.”

And with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners searches will take place in eastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, southern Illinois, the Florida panhandle, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and east Texas.

And individuals, like Mike Collins in the Pearl River, will continue their personal quests to morph the romantic, enigmatic grail-bird into a lucid, palpable creature that flies not only through our imagination but through remnants of wilderness that remind them of a long-ago home.

But for me:

I’ll buy me my pint cup

And gladly buy you, yours

And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet

For old ivory-bills

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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