Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Monday, March 13, 2006


Well, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's prospects are looking a little more grim each day. In an earlier post I described how Jerome Jackson had shaken my faith in the bird's existence. Since then some magnificent photographs of leucistic Pileated Woodpeckers (left) have been taken in the Cache River Refuge, confirming that the genes for extra white feathers occur in that population. Word on the street has it that this Friday's edition of the journal Science will feature a paper by bird identification whiz-kid David Sibley agreeing that the famous Luneau video is indeed of a Pileated. It's disappointing to feel the hope drain from my body like this, but what's even more disturbing is the kind of vitriol I see among the devotees of the Ivorybill. I have friends who are deeply angry at me for considering the skeptics' arguments.
I was once annoyed at the moniker “Lord God Bird,” which suddenly sprouted up in the language. It smacked of Madison Avenue hucksters developing a brand, but now I'm coming to see it for the appropriate description it is. David Luneau inadvertently built a temple in the Arkansas swamps, and a large congregation was eager to worship there. The arguments in defense of the Lord God Bird sound more and more like Creationist dogma, the faith-based diatribes of Bush apologists, or the proclamations of Mt. Ararat "ark-eologists."

I don't mean to suggest we give up hope on the Ivorybill. Nothing would make me happier than to have clear evidence of the bird, and for clear evidence I'm happy to wait.
(For further information on the subject, visit these two excellent blogs: the devout and the infidel.)
lower: STRANGE FRUIT--IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER (2002) acrylic 30" x 20"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post.

The leucistic Pileated was from the White River NWR (just to be anal about it).

7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the really sad part of all of this is that you don't have to have leucistic Pileateds to see that the bird in the video is not an Ivory-billed.

It's just a plain old Pileated.

Or we could just call it the Lord Elvis Bird.

7:13 AM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Mystery commenter #1: Thanks for the clarification. I don't know the area and was under the impression that one was a part of the other.
Mystery commenter #2: I don't pretend to be able to make heads or tails of the video. I hope it's an Ivorybill, but if that's the best evidence for the bird, I'm not yet persuaded.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will all due respect, does it really matter if a tiny population is clinging to life, or if it is extinct? If there are a dozen birds left, they have little hope for survival.

And the key issue is that the conditions which hurt them in the first place have not really gotten better. The environment is still being destroyed.


10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting point, Alex... but I guess if you ask the last dozen birds their opinion, they would probably say that it does matter to them! Maybe they won't survive, and you are right that the root of the problem is elsewhere, but for those last dozen birds, maybe they deserve a better fighting chance.

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has also been some hope recently of the Ivory Billed being in the Congaree National Swamp south of Columbia, SC alond with the rumors in Arkansas. I don't believe that it's been confirmed at either place.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember the big picture -
While we wait on the edge of our seats for good news about the Ivory Bill...
Savages in Washington are hacking away at the endangered species list with swords of gold
Nothing will satisfy the greed mongers untill all the earth is a barren stone and nothing is left but what is in their pockets
While you wait for news on the Ivory Bill - remeber to speak for the Grizzley Bear - the Timber Wolf, The Bald Eagle etc etc etc
Excuse me - I must wipe the tears from my eyes

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There may be Ivory Billed woodpeckers left in the United States, but I think you'd be more likely to find some in Cuba, unless, of course, the Cubans are even more bent on eco-destruction than the Americans. It all comes down to habitat.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Alex & O.D.: You bring up some good points. The hardwood bottomlands of the Southeast provide better Ivorybill habitat than they did 30 years ago, but it's likely that that ecosystem is presently at its apex of health. You're right, habitat is the real issue.
Marc: Yes, hope springs eternal, and I hope as much as anyone. Cyberthrush's Ivorybill blog (for which I have a link in my post) is an excellent source for keeping up to date with these sightings.
Bobbb: I agree fully with what you say, although I take issue with your examples. Brown Bears, Gray Wolves and Bald Eagles are species whose iconic status protects them very well. They are in no danger of imminent extinction. I'm much more concerned about the many species that pass beneath the public radar. In the US, these include Middlekauf's Shieldback Katydid, the Nashville Crayfish, Relict Leopard Frog, Giant Kangaroo Rat and the Bachman's Warbler, last seen in S. Carolina in 1962.
Mystery commenter: Again, you rightly mention the habitat issue. Also correct about Cuba. There is still a possibility of Ivorybills persisting on Isla de Juvendad or in the SW of the main island. Cuba's last confirmed Ivorybill sighting was in 1987.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:53 AM  

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