Those of you with long memories may recall earlier posts regarding the quest for
the ivory-billed woodpecker in the swamps of Louisiana, and the issue as to
whether a record of the distinctive double rap would be good enough for an atlas
record. Well, as the French have found out, woodworking noises are
June 10, 2002
Faint Hope for Survival of a Woodpecker Fades
By JAMES GORMAN
One more faint hope for the survival of the ivory-billed woodpecker has faded.
A team searching swampy Louisiana bottomland in January for the regal, perhaps
extinct bird heard what they thought was a distinctive double-rap on a dead
tree. But researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who did a computer
analysis of digital recordings of the sounds, said yesterday that the listeners
actually heard distant gunshots.
The ivory-bill was, or still may be, the largest North American woodpecker, 20
inches tall, with a 30-inch wingspan. It once thrived in hardwood forests of the
South, but with logging of the old trees and development, the birds disappeared.
For decades, however, the ivory-bill has been sighted almost as often as Elvis,
and usually as reliably. But some sightings have been credible, including one in
1999 in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area near Slidell, La.
This winter, Zeiss Sports Optics paid for six people to search the wildlife
management area. The Cornell Lab, a membership organization affiliated with
Cornell University, also went to work, setting out 12 computerized recording
Four members of the Zeiss team and some on the Cornell team heard the same
series of loud double raps on Jan. 27 at 3:30 p.m. All thought it was a
woodpecker. But no one saw the bird.
The puzzle was left to a computer analysis of more than 4,000 hours of sound
from the recording units. John Fitzpatrick, head of the Cornell Lab, said in an
interview that the sounds were clearly gunshots. "The case is closed," Dr.
Fitzpatrick said, "and nobody wanted it to be an ivory-bill more than I did."
The absence of evidence does not prove an absence of birds, although Dr.
Fitzgerald said no calls of an ivory-bill or its distinctive double-raps were
heard recorded, so he concluded that no ivory-bills were active in that area in
the time of the recording.
But he is not giving up. He plans further searches in Louisiana and other areas,
as does David Luneau, of the Zeiss team.
"I will definitely be searching, somehow, somewhere," Mr. Luneau said.
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