A Shot in the Dark
For the obsessive ornithologists among our readers, some tragicomic news: Once-buoyant hopes for the survival of the ivory-billed woodpecker have faded after sounds thought to be the bird’s distinctive double-rap on a dead tree proved to be distant gunshots. Earlier this year, the ivory-billed woodpecker, which has not been confirmed to exist since shortly after World War II, was the subject of a month-long search in the Louisiana swamplands by a team of internationally recognized birders. That search was prompted by an apparently credible sighting of the bird in 1999; the team that went out this January didn’t see so much as a feather, but it did record a series of raps that the scientists agreed was a woodpecker. Alas, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who did a computer analysis of the sounds begged to differ. The ivory-billed woodpecker was (or maybe is) the largest North American woodpecker, standing 20 inches tall and boasting a 30-inch wingspan. Its decline corresponded to the cutting of its habitat, the hardwood forests of the southern U.S.