MUST BIRDERS EAT CROW?
Authorship: Jeff Lyon
Published February 26, 2006
FOR THE IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER, the choice seems to be either extinction or becoming an avian sasquatch. This magnificent bird, with its 30-inch wing span and panda-like coloring, had its last confirmed sighting in 1944 and has long been considered extinct due to the destruction of its Southern forest habitat by loggers and farmers.
Then last April, incredible news: The fabled flier, Audubon's favorite bird and the poster child for environmental loss, had returned from the dead! A kayaker said he spotted one in 2004 in an Arkansas wildlife refuge, a sighting allegedly repeated by two more men, one an author conveniently about to publish a book on the bird.
A CIA-like effort to find the ivory-bill was then secretly made by a team of scientists with strong Chicago connections: It was led by Cornell University's John Fitzpatrick (former bird curator at the Field Museum) and the Nature Conservancy's Scott Simon (a Highland Park native), using Marshall Field V's money. They came home with a blurry video and a sound byte said to be the bird's call. The results were reported in the June 3 Science under the heading "The Ivory-Bill Returns." It was as if a dodo had been found wandering on a beach.
But with no more sightings, doubts are growing as to the credibility of the discovery, and an academic cockfight has begun. "Faith-based ornithology" is what the reputed find was called in an article in the journal The Auk by Jerome A. Jackson, an ivory-bill expert at Florida Gulf Coast University. Jackson says the videoed bird is really a pileated woodpecker. Yale's Richard Prum suggests that the team better turn up more proof in 2006 or they'll have laid a giant egg.