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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Frank Gill on Ivory-billed Woodpecker "Rediscovery"

I was able to get a copy of Frank Gill's brand-spanking-new Ornithology text book (3rd edition). Here's what he says about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker:
Even more encouraging are the rediscoveries of species thought to be extinct (Table 21-1). Among them, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has by far the highest profile. Last seen for sure in 1944 in the Singer tract of Louisiana, the majestic Ivory-billed Woodpecker, or Lord God Bird, is the signature species of the old-growth bottomland forests of the southeastern United States (Figure 21-7). One of the largest woodpeckers in the world, the Ivory-bill first was hunted by Native Americans and then was collected as a desireable rarity by early ornithologists. Critical bottomland forests were cut. Despite regular reports of sightings of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, in teh absence of any confirming photograph, Ivory-bills became as legendary and elusive as Elvis himself.

Then, a report by a kayaker in southeastern Arkansas on February 11, 2004, followed by 4 seconds of video, sparked fevered excitement, renewed hope, and led to a public media blitz in April 2005 (Fitzpatrck et al. 2005). Field teams searched the bottomlands. Additional land was secured to protect the ecosystem. Local entrepreneurs and townships profited from the rush of ecotourism. But the woodpecker disappeared, prompting professional debates and doubts (Sibley et al. 2006; Fitzpatrick et al. 2006; Jackson 2006). This spike of rediscovery, however, revitalized the hopes of conservationists everywhere. Other lost species also might survive if such a large and dramatic species as this one could persist undetected for 60 years (pp. 651-52).

Interestingly, there is a questionmark next to the rediscovery year in the table of rediscovered birds thought to be extinct for at least 50 years.


Anonymous said...

Gill: Hey Fitz, I’m calling about the Ivory Bill, time to reissue the text book.

Fitz: Frank you know I’d do anything for you, that’s what partners are for … what do you want to know.

Gill: Well, were pretty good at lists, but I can’t decide what to put in the check box by Elvis.

Fitz: Its OK Frank, we stopped calling it Elvis after the NPR story came out and the NDA’s sunseted.

Gill: Oh, I miss those days, back when it was just you, leading 200 insiders sworn to secrecy, Roger Sant’s jet, the meetings with TNC, looking at those 4 seconds over and over free of any skeptical inquiry – back when Elvis was the “word” … I just love that metaphor. You’re good Fitz – that three card monty you delt to Kennedy over at Science – that was the work of a master.

Fitz: Take it easy Frank – you weren’t one of the insiders, but I appreciate what you said to James Gorman when he felt like our press releases couldn’t be printed right off the fax.

Gill: No biggie, Fitz, our people are leaders now aren’t they?

Fitz: They most certainly are, I’ve said many times to the press now that your Arkansas state office and their local citizen scientists are leading the effort to find the Ivory Bill.

Gill: We appreciate that. Now about the text book, we’re talking perpetuity here Fitz, I know you pretend like Sibley’s article isn’t a big deal, and I’m with you that he doesn’t have a PhD and there is a big difference between being a scientist and being just a bird artist, but more people read his book than my book … and, well Fitz, I’m worried that his book will be reissued too.

Fitz: Well, Frank, I can only tell you what I’ve told the press – before I stopped taking their calls, this is a matter of “professional dispute” – we disagree with “Sibley’s Wing Twisting Hypothesis”. It is complicated.

Gill: It really is a tough call, plus I’ve been thinking about the Native American’s, you know they hunted Ivory Bill’s …

Fitz: Yes, you should add that in your write up – hey good talking to you, I gotta run, one of our alums up in Canada think they heard some distinctive kents on one of his ARU’s – I’m prepping him, the whole thing is embargoed, but believe you me, it should really give you some material for the 4th edition … let me know if you guys change your mind about calling it the “Cornell Christmas Bird Count” …

dguzman said...

The intrigue thickens!

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