The 2005-2006 Ivory-bill Search

December 12, 2005

Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Begins this Year in Arkansas

With the arrival of volunteer searchers, the 2005-2006 Ivory-billed Woodpecker Research Project is now fully staffed and going full steam ahead. The current field season continues through April, 2006. The search is being led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, The Nature Conservancy, and Audubon Arkansas, with the support and cooperation of other members the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Recovery Team.

“This is an exciting opportunity to better document the existence and learn more about this magnificent bird,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “Now that the leaves have fallen, conditions are much improved for seeing and hearing the birds.  Finding birds is a critical part of the recovery process and we’re hoping for some exciting news.”

Twenty-two search team leaders, coordinators, supervisors, and field technicians have been working in eastern Arkansas since November 1. More than 100 volunteers will now be joining the search, and will be deployed in groups of 14 for two week periods through the remainder of the field season. The goal is to find an ivory-bill roost hole or nest hole and get additional video documentation of the bird or birds—all in the hope of learning more about the species to bring the ivory-bill back from near-extinction.

 “Since the ivory-bill’s rediscovery, The Nature Conservancy has acquired for protection some 18,500 acres of critical habitat and worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add 1,440 acres to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge – where the bird was first spotted,” said Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Arkansas chapter. “The more data gathered about the number and location of ivory bills living in Arkansas, the more we can do to protect this fragile habitat and make sure this incredible bird survives for generations to come. Because of the great cooperation of many agencies and organizations focusing on habitat conservation, we have a chance to recover the ivory bill.”

Searches in Arkansas are planned for White River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Cache River NWR, Dagmar Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Black Swamp WMA, Wattensaw WMA, and Benson Creek Natural Area.  Other teams are starting to organize scouting trips to follow-up on Ivory-billed woodpecker sightings from across the southern United States in the former range of the bird.  This may involve work in South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, but will depend on a review of what is believed to be the best habitat, along with credible recent sightings.

“The restoration of the entire corridor of the Cache River is extremely important to the habitat of many wildlife species, not only the Ivory-billed Woodpecker,” said Arkansas Game and Fish Commission director Scott Henderson.
Searchers will use traditional tools, such as binoculars and digital cameras, as well as high-tech methods that include Autonomous Recording Units (ARUs), sophisticated sound-analysis software, time-lapse video systems, and remote cameras. Human searchers will make their way through the bayous by canoe and on foot, looking for promising tree cavities. They will also be conducting transect searches with the aid of GPS units. At other times they will be sitting quietly in blinds, observing. Scouts will be looking for suitable ivory-bill habitat, assisted by NASA satellite photos that will help them focus on promising areas more quickly.
“The volunteers are vital to the search effort,” says Dr. John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Without them there’s no way we could scour such a large area for ivory-bills. These folks are field biologists and avid birders—all of them giving up their time to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime recovery project.”

Key to the recovery of the ivory-bill is preservation of habitat. Thanks to the efforts of local hunters and fishers, the ivory-bill, and many other species was able to survive in the depths of the Big Woods.   More than 75 percent of the habitat at Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, location of the March 2004, Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting, was purchased with $41 million in revenue generated from the sale of Duck Stamps. Hunters, birders and other lovers of the outdoors are encouraged to buy stamps to save habitat, which not only benefits the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but wildlife everywhere.  Ducks Stamps sell for $15 at the United States Postal Service 1-800 STAMP-24 (1-800-782-6724), and at most major sporting goods stores that sell hunting and fishing licenses.