Naturalist to present evidence long-lost woodpecker is back

March 01, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

Word that the long-lost ivory-billed woodpecker might not be extinct after all sent excitement and skepticism through the birding community when sightings of the bird were reported last year.

Could it be that a bird last seen 60 years ago had remained alive but undetected all these years?

Believers and nonbelievers alike will have the chance to judge the evidence for themselves when a leading ivory-billed woodpecker researcher presents the latest findings tomorrow evening in Annapolis.

Naturalist Ron Rohrbaugh, director of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Research Project at Cornell University, will play recent recordings of the bird's double-raps and show photos of the bird taken in eastern Arkansas.

The presentation begins at 8 p.m. at Quiet Waters Park in the Great Blue Heron Room.

Rohrbaugh is one of the 17 co-authors of an article that appeared in Science in June that lays out the case for the survival of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

"We're really lucky to get this guy," said Gerald Winegrad, program chairman for the Anne Arundel Bird Club. "We're going to see proof - it's a very, very unusual thing. It's like the Holy Grail of birding."

The bird - which is jet black with a white stripe down the sides of its neck and back, stands about a foot high and has a wingspan of nearly 3 feet - had long been thought to be extinct. The last confirmed North American sighting was in 1944 in northern Louisiana.

In the decades since, researchers and birders have combed potential habitats in central Florida, Texas and South Carolina. The first of the most recent sightings came in February 2004, and the Nature Conservancy has reported at least a dozen sightings of the bird in Arkansas since then.

Yet, along with excitement has come skepticism among many in the scientific and birding communities.

A January article in The Auk: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology raises doubts about whether eastern Arkansas would be a sustainable habitat where an ivory-billed woodpecker could remain undetected.

"Now what people are saying is that why don't we hear them or see them if they are there," Winegrad said. "It isn't definitive, but the bird and sightings are still popping up."

An entire industry has cropped up around the ivory-billed woodpecker. Last week, "The Call of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Celebration" was held in Arkansas.

Winegrad, who describes himself as a skeptic-turned-believer, said the potential for a tourism boom is significant and that interest will only grow.

"I think they found it," he said. "And there's still a chance to preserve it and have it come back."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

Information: Gerald Winegrad, 410-280-8956 or gwwabc@comcast.net.

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