Rare Woodpecker Elusive as Search Season Ends
WASHINGTON The search for the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker in the swamps of Arkansas has ended for the season with no confirmed sighting, wildlife experts said Thursday, but they plan to start looking again in late autumn.
The "Lord God bird" -- so-called because of the exclamation it prompted from those who saw it -- was last officially seen in 1944, but eyewitness reports and a four-second video of the ivory-bill in flight in 2004 convinced many scientists the crow-sized woodpecker has come back from presumed extinction.
An intensive six-month search in the Big Woods area of Arkansas failed to turn up any renewed sightings, bird experts and wildlife officials said in a telephone news conference.
"Certainly we're somewhat disappointed," said Ron Rohrbaugh, director of Cornell University's search for the bird. "But we have had enough of these kind of tantalizing sounds and possible encounters with birds ... that we still have a lot of hope that there might be a pair."
Twenty-two full-time field biologists and 112 volunteers have monitored the birds' probable habitat in eastern Arkansas since December, but the effort ended for the season this month after tree leaves emerged, cutting visibility.
The search will resume in late autumn, when the trees are again bare. "We're still in high gear, we're still going to keep searching," Rohrbaugh said.
Four people reported seeing birds this season that might have been ivory-billed woodpeckers, but the sightings were so fleeting they could not be confirmed, the wildlife experts said.
In all four cases, those who saw them reported a characteristic band of white at the trailing edge of the wings, a pattern seen only on ivory-billed woodpeckers.
The more common pileated woodpecker, found over much of the United States, is about the same size as the ivory-bill but lacks the white swath at the edge of its wings.
Aside from human observation, searchers installed remote microphones and cameras in the Big Woods. Scientists at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology will review the thousands of hours of these recordings for possible signs of the rare bird.
In addition, some searchers heard what sounded like typical ivory bill calls, called kent calls, and a double-knocking tap that is also characteristic of an ivory-billed woodpecker.
This season's search cost Cornell about $1 million, and Rohrbaugh said its spending would be trimmed for next season.
Jon Andrew of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is overseeing the search, said future searches for the woodpecker would focus on a broad area including Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas.