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Ghost of a Chance

How did the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was feared extinct, hang on all these years?

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One reason previous ivory-bill sightings have been discounted is that ornithologists didn't expect the bird to be so shy. Ornithologist James Tanner studied the last known ivory-bill population in Louisiana in the 1930s and found the birds to be conspicuously noisy during the non-nesting season and rather tame in his presence. If such birds persisted, the thinking went, surely they would have been fairly easy to find. Now some experts speculate that the noisy, tame ones were all shot and only those that were wary around humans survived.

We don't yet know if there are other ivory-bills in other swamps, and for now just knowing the "Lord God" bird lives in Arkansas should be enough. But why not hope for the best? Hope suddenly doesn't seem to be in such short supply, and the Southern bottomlands, those plundered but resilient forests, suddenly seem a wilder, more complete place.


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