A Ghost from the Old South - In 1938 James Tanner took what is widely regarded as the last photo of an ivory-billed woodpecker, which was even then thought to be extinct.Sightings were rare and Tanner estimated that only about 20 birds remained. Six years later two men sent by the Audubon Society located and sketched what was thought to be the lone remaining ivory-billed woodpecker. Now, after six decades, researchers believe the bird still exists. One of the largest woodpeckers, the ivory-billed stands twenty-inches tall with a wingspan of thirty-inches. It's markings give it an almost regal air, and its majestic bill reminded John James Audubon of "satin and lace." It is also known for its distinctive double knock and that is one way researchers hope to identify the elusive bird.
The excitement surrounding the possible reappearance of the ivory-billed began with a glimpse caught by a kayaker on February 11, 2004. Gene Sparling reported seeing a very large, unusual woodpecker. Although the encounter was brief, it was enough to cause scientists to descend upon the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas to look for further evidence. While many believed the bird was gone along with its habitat of old-growth forests, many now believe that the Big Woods along Arkansas Mississippi River Delta may be home to at least one ivory-billed woodpecker. In a year-long search the Big Woods Conservation Partnership, staffed by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and The Nature Conservancy, has come up with some tantalizing evidence. First, there were several brief sightings of the bird. Two seconds of videotape has been analyzed frame-by-frame, and team has possibly gotten that unique double knock on an audio recording.
Rediscovering the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Arkansas Refuge points to a larger effort by a collection of agencies, conservation organizations, hunters and landowners. Their work in conserving and restoring the ecosystem, including the large hardwoods that are home to the beetles that are a favorite meal of the ivory-billed, has contributed to many species' resurgence, including black bears. In the next 10 years the Nature Conservancy hopes to add another 200,000 acres to the 18,000 it has already acquired in the Big Woods near the Cache River. A bright future is on the horizon; the prospect of bringing back not only an iconic bird of the old-south but also the unique forests where it lives.