After more than sixty-years, a rare bird believed to have been extinct has been spotted in the Big Woods of Arkansas. A kayaker first reported seeing the ivory-billed woodpecker last year. Scientists have since spotted the bird several times and even caught it briefly on video. (Seen here is a John James Audobon illustration.) From a Cornell University news release:
While kayaking in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge on Feb. 11, 2004, Gene Sparling of Hot Springs, Ark., saw an unusually large, red-crested woodpecker fly toward him and land on a nearby tree. He noticed several field marks suggesting the bird was an ivory-billed woodpecker.
A week later, after learning of the sighting, Tim Gallagher, editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Living Bird magazine, and Bobby Harrison, associate professor at Oakwood College, Huntsville, Ala., interviewed Sparling. They were so convinced by his report that they traveled to Arkansas and then with Sparling to the bayou where he had seen the bird.
On Feb. 27, as Sparling paddled ahead, a large black-and-white woodpecker flew across the bayou less than 70 feet in front of Gallagher and Harrison, who simultaneously cried out: "Ivory-bill!" Minutes later, after the bird had disappeared into the forest, Gallagher and Harrison sat down to sketch independently what each had seen. Their field sketches, included in the Science article, show the characteristic patterns of white and black on the wings of the woodpecker.
"When we finished our notes," Gallagher said, "Bobby sat down on a log, put his face in his hands and began to sob, saying, 'I saw an ivory-bill. I saw an ivory-bill.'" Gallagher said he was too choked with emotion to speak. "Just to think this bird made it into the 21st century gives me chills. It's like a funeral shroud has been pulled back, giving us a glimpse of a living bird, rising Lazarus-like from the grave," he said.
Link to news release.
Amazing. I'll never forget seeing the Ivory-billed woodpecker in a bird book for the first time and moments later, reading that it was extinct. It was a sad moment for me. I think that was the first time that the reality of extinction hit me in a very real way. Sometime last year I read that the bird was thought to have been sighted again. I had to read it several times to believe it. This is one of those too rare moments when we have good news about a species and the biodiversity of our planet.