Hope for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

April 28, 2005

Rediscovery galvanizes conservation efforts

"It's impossible to describe the emotional sense that one gets when one imagines that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is actually still here," said John Fitzpatrick, director of Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "We've all dreamed and fantasized about it. I have actually played the game of looking in the forests for months at a time, but I never had a sense that there was really that much hope, I've just had this fantasy."

"Well, the fantasy is true," said Fitzpatrick. "This most magnificent of all the North American birds, Audubon's romantic bird of the deep southern forest, this spectacular red-crested bird with huge white wings that people the world over would die to come and see if only it still existed--this bird lives."

Cornell Lab of Ornithology has played a role in documenting the Ivory-billed Woodpecker since the 1924 when Arthur Allen, the founder of the lab, located a pair of nesting ivory-bills in Florida and took the first pictures of the living birds. Eleven years later he made the first motion pictures and sound recordings of ivory-bills. This was in the Singer Tract, about 150 miles as the ivory-bill flies from the Cache River search area, and sat beneath a tree harboring what he thought could have been the very last-known remnant population of the species. His recordings of the calls of the ivory-bills and pictures of the immense black-and-white woodpecker flying through the bottomland forest remain a haunting testament to what we did wrong. Finding the bird again gives us the opportunity to help right a wrong; it gives us opportunity to restore a broad ecosystem in an effort to bring the bird back from the brink.

"It's a hopeful point in the history of American conservation that a bird we thought extinct for so long--that we loved and that was so revered --actually could be coming back," said Fitzpatrick. "We are also in this process to think more broadly about the management of the habitat that this bird was discovered in because there--with or without the Ivory-billed Woodpecker--is the long-term story of conservation in this part of the United States. It's about the return of the great bottomland forest ecosystems of North America that we took away 100 years ago."