Seven Sightings - April 2005

April 2005

Details about what the search team saw and heard

Between February 11, 2004, and February 14, 2005, the search team reported at least 15 sightings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Seven of these included sufficient details to include in the Science article (Science Express, April 28, 2005).

  • February 11, 2004: At about 1:30 P.M., while kayaking through the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, Gene Sparling of Hot Springs, Arkansas, watched as a huge and unusual woodpecker with a red crest flew toward him and landed on a nearby tree. The bird hitched around the tree in what he later described as a "herky jerky" or "cartoon-like" motion. Sparling noticed several field marks suggesting that the bird was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

    About a week later, Tim Gallagher, editor of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's Living Bird magazine, and Bobby Harrison, associate professor at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, interviewed Sparling about his sighting after reading a post on a web site. Gallagher and Harrison had been following up on ivory-bill sightings in preparation for a book Gallagher was writing. Sparling's description was so convincing that Gallagher and Harrison traveled to Arkansas so that Sparling could take them back to the bayou where he had seen the bird.

    February 27, 2004: Gallagher recalled, "On the second day of our trip, at approximately 1:15 in the afternoon, a large black-and-white woodpecker with the characteristic color pattern of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flew across the bayou at close range in front of Harrison and me. We cried out simultaneously, 'Ivory-bill!' and paddled frantically toward shore. As soon as we landed, we took off through the boot-sucking muck and mire of the swamp, climbing up and over fallen trees and through branches, with camcorder in hand and running. Although the bird landed on tree trunks briefly a couple of times, we weren't able to catch up with it or take video."

    "Fifteen minutes later, I suggested that we sit down and write detailed field notes, before we'd had a chance to think much about what we had seen or to confer with each other.

    "As he finished his notes, Harrison sat down on a log, put his face in his hands, and began to sob. 'I saw an ivory-bill,' he said. I stood quietly a few feet away, too choked with emotion to speak," Gallagher said.

    Later, Harrison said, "I have always believed that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still lived, and finding one has been a dominant force in my life for more than three decades. Finding an ivory-bill was a 33-year dream come true for me."

    April 5, 2004: Jim Fitzpatrick, brother of Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick, and executive director of the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center, saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flying above the treetops along the edge of a lake near the initial sighting area. With the bird only 100 meters away, he was able to see without binoculars the broad white trailing edges of the wings characteristic of the ivory-bill, and noted the bird's "loonlike" flight.

    April 10, 2004: At the same location as the April 5 sighting, Melinda LaBranche of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology watched as an ivory-bill flew above the treetops 100 meters away. Through binoculars, she noticed the broad white trailing edges of the wings and a narrow red crescent on the bird's folded crest.

    April 11, 2004: Melanie Driscoll of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology watched through binoculars as an ivory-bill flew across a gap in the forest about 120 meters away. Through binoculars she saw broad white trailing edge of the wings, a white line extending from the wings up the long neck, and a small flash of red on the bird's black crest.

    June 9, 2004: Bobby Harrison reported seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flush from near the base of a bald-cypress about 15 meters in front of him. As the bird swooped up to land, the broad white trailing edges to the wings were especially visible.

    February 14, 2005: Casey Taylor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reported hearing a series of double-knock display drums for 30 minutes. A short time later she watched through binoculars as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flew across an open area as it was being mobbed by American Crows. As the bird flew past about 80-120 meters away, she noticed through binoculars the broad white trailing edges to the wings, long neck with white stripe, and black head with long bill.


On two other occasions, observers heard what might have been sounds of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, but without visual confirmation.

  • November 9, 2004: Marshall Iliff, a long-time birder who has extensive knowledge of Campephilus woodpeckers (the genus to which the ivory-bill belongs), heard 18 double-knocks that he identified as sounds made by an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. During 13 minutes, the sounds came from two directions. It was unclear whether the sounds were made by two birds, or by one bird after switching locations.
  • March 7, 2005: Two observers simultaneously heard double-knocks at the same time.