Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.
BRINKLEY, Ark. - Long believed to be extinct, a magnificent bird - the ivory-billed woodpecker - has been rediscovered in the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas. More than 60 years after the last confirmed sighting of the species in the United States, a research team today announced that at least one male ivory-bill still survives in vast areas of bottomland swamp forest. Published in the journal Science on its Science Express Web site (April 28, 2005), the findings include multiple sightings of the elusive woodpecker and frame-by-frame analyses of brief video footage. The evidence was gathered during an intensive year-long search in the Cache River and White River national wildlife refuges involving more than 50 experts and field biologists working together as part of the Big Woods Conservation Partnership, led by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy. "The bird captured on video is clearly an ivory-billed woodpecker," said John Fitzpatrick, the Science article's lead author, and director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. "Amazingly, America may have another chance to protect the future of this spectacular bird and the awesome forests in which it lives." "It is a landmark rediscovery," said Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy's Arkansas chapter. "Finding the ivory-bill in Arkansas validates decades of great conservation work and represents an incredible story of hope for the future." Joining the search team at a press conference in Washington DC, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced a Department of the Interior initiative to identify funds for recovery efforts. ... The rediscovery has galvanized efforts to save the Big Woods of Arkansas, 550,000 acres of bayous, bottomland forests and oxbow lakes. According to Simon, The Nature Conservancy has conserved 18,000 acres of critical habitat in the Big Woods, at the request of the partnership, since the search began. "It's a very wild and beautiful place," Simon said. The Search and the Evidence 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. ... David Luneau, associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said he thought the best chance to film the elusive bird would be to have a camcorder on at all times. On April 25, Luneau captured four seconds of video footage showing an ivory-billed woodpecker taking off from the trunk of a tree. Frame-by-frame analyses show a bird perched on a tupelo trunk, with a distinctive white pattern on its back. During 1.2 seconds of flight, the video reveals 11 wing beats showing extensive white on the trailing edges of the wings and white on the back. Both of these features distinguish the ivory-billed woodpecker from the superficially similar, and much more common, pileated woodpecker.This link takes you to Science magazine's report on the find.