My Search For the Ivory Billed Woodpecker
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January 16, 2006.
I began these pages more or less originally to just "put it out there" for people that wanted to read them. I have been involved in searching for this bird for awhile and I had been sharing some info with about 6 people before I posted anything,,,I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with the information I gleaned.
My options that I considered were,
A. Just satisfy my own curiosity about the Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Florida and not really do anything with the information,,which is how I handle most of my projects, they seem to be mostly for self fulfillment and I have found people around me really don't care.
B. Satisfy my own curiosity and then do what alot of people do and submit the info to the "scholars", who I have found in the past regard people like me as an annoyance.
C. Satisfy my own curiosity, take some pictures, video and sell it to the highest bidder. Thankfully I am not wired this way.
D. Satisfy my own curiosity, take some pictures and video and do the talk circuit and share the info with like minded people. This is my favorite option. It is more my "speed", I love public speaking and I especially love it when my subject interests others,,,I have done this in other fields of study and have found alot of gratification.
E. Write a book. I am not profit driven. My wife is. I might be persuaded to release a book, but I will no doubt self publish it and just make it available on-line with no fanfare or big push for sales.
F. Just forget the bird exists. The bird will no doubt be better off if everyone would just forget it exists and then it can go on as it has successfully for the last 60+ years when everyone thought it was extinct. I considered this option, and I still do every day.
The information that I've posted here is simplistic,,,so much more has been going on and I was afraid to post anything about sightings for a few reasons. Mostly, even though I may appear to some to be a bit egotistical, I am very insecure about being accepted and believed. And this is always on my mind,,I simply cannot stand ridicule.
On the other hand I do have the ability, based on a myriad of psychosis', to put other peoples' criticisms aside and ignore them totally.
It is hard for me at this time to really decide how to distribute the information I've gathered.
I am afraid for our birds. I am also anxious to hold up pictures and maps and say,,,"They are here, and here,,,,,,and even here." That would be my desire for attention that would make me do that,,but alas, I am not that shallow.
I battle my own self hypocrasy(sp), for if I really do care deep down about the bird(s) then why look for them and tell anyone about them at all?
These are things I deal with daily.
I am not going to add more to these pages but I would like to share what I've found and if I decide to put out the book then I will post that here,,and if I decide to do a talk circuit then I will be out and available for questions.
I won't be selling pictures to the highest bidder.
In the first search area I have had multiple sightings. That is the place where the female is described in these pages. I had a good long look at this bird. There are problems with my observation that I was not and still am not able to figure out. The eyes were not yellow. I know that juvenile birds have not so yellow eyes. This was not a juvenile bird. It was sleek, large and not gawky.
I have not had another close up sighting like this,,my other sightings were all fly overs. I have seen two birds at one time flying together, but because of lighting and such I could not determine if they were males or females.
I cannot tell you how important it is to know that once you see an Ivory Bill there is no way to confuse it with another bird. The white is obvious, the size of the bird is very telling and more importantly the wings are longer and flap differently than a pileated. I am a herpetologist and I compare the confusion with scarlet kingsnakes and coral snakes. There is repeated published descriptions trying to help lay people tell the difference. You've heard it,,,red and yellow,,bad for fellow,,or some crap like that,,,it is all about the color in these descriptions. But when you lay a coral snake next to a scarlet kingsnake,,there just isn't any similarity other than red/black/yellow. The snakes simply cannot be confused.
And so it is with the birds. They are not similar. They have black/white/red,,but beyond that they simply cannot be confused.
In my second search area I have had multiple sightings and lots of vocalizations. I am frustrated because this area is lots of patches of private property. In other words, it is just a matter of sitting on the water and watching them fly to inaccessible areas. I have not had sightings in the adjacent pine forests,,,I simply haven't spent enough time in them,,but it is here that lots of feeding evidence can be found.
Tiger Bay is a wonderful place to look for the bird. At this time I only observed one flying bird and it was a wonderful view at 50 mph, in my car. I slowed and ran my two right tires off the road but lost the bird among the trees. Once again, having seen the bird in flight it is very easy to spot them.
I need to say a few things that may rile some. I believe and am convinced that they are everywhere. Everywhere that is that provides them with food. No one notices them anymore than anyone notices an aningha or louisiana heron flying over the tree tops. Think carefully here. You have roads, highways and trails going through suitable habitat. How many people driving or walking through here are looking for Ivory Billed Wood peckers? How many are looking for kestrals? How many are looking for sand hill cranes flying over head. VERY FEW. These birds exist and live despite people. And most or nearly all of the people that are in the same place as the bird at any given moment do not care, nor are they paying attention to anything flying over head.
Ivory Billed Woodpeckers are not afraid of houses, roads, boats or anything else. No more than a crow is, or no more than a great white egret. The birds that I have seen have all been in relative close proximity to some development. They are birds. Pileateds are birds. Crows are birds. Goldfinches are birds. They all live and exist despite people. Ivory Billed Woodpeckers have no interest in bird feeders(as far as I know), but I see no reason why one would not land on a dead tree on a 5 acre lot and feed. Indeed, I have collected reports in my second search area of birds feeding on horse pastures.
Ivory Billed Woodpeckers make vocalizations. They are loud. My daughter was with me the first time I heard one. My daughter is not a birder. There are lots of sounds on the swamp. When the Woodpecker made the sound she laughed and turned to me and asked what it was. She hasn't done this with any other bird or animal. It is a loud, distinctive sound, that cannot be confused with blue jays or any other bird. Nuthatches?????? Give me a break. Once again,,,if you hear a real ivory bill, you will not have a problem identifying the sound. The sound is out there.
Listen to lay people. I have learned to interview people,,and I interview ALOT of people. Most people who are not birders will not lie. I do stay concious though, of people who "aim to please". That is,,,people will go on alot about things if they think they are pleasing you. And therein lies the art of interviewing.
I use the 12 foot rattlesnake rule. I know there are no 12 foot rattlsnakes,,,(well maybe,,,),,but if someone tells me there are twelve foot rattlesnakes in the swamp then I really need to be careful about their ivory bill reports.
Pictures. I have pictures. My pictures are bad. I have not been able to take a good close up picture of an ivory bill working up a tree. I have in flight pictures,,,I have others. I am working on getting better pictures. Everyone will see pictures when the time comes.
Nests. I have only recently learned that new nests are excavated each time they nest. I have located many many holes. I will have my film of an active nest and that will be book two perhaps.
And so there it is. That is the gist of where I'm at. I was convinced the birds are out there. I was not ready for the ease of finding them. I was not ready for the difficulty in getting a good picture. I have had a hard time taking in flight pictures of ducks, aninghas, pileateds, and many other birds. So the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is not a mysterious mythical creature. It is a bird, like other birds. And observing them is similar to other birds. Finding their nests is hard. It took me three years to find scrub jay nests on our road. I am very good at finding jay nests now. I will be good at finding Ivory Billed Woodpecker nests too. I have only found one pileated nest. So it goes.
I have not been forthcoming with the woodpecker locations 1 and 2. I do not wish to reveal these locations. They are compact areas that I am interested in finding nests and quite honestly I do not want hoards of people in my way. I revealed Tiger Bay,,,it is a big area and I wish anyone luck who ventures there,,,I will bet that a diligent period of time there will reward a birder a glimpse.
Other areas that look good are the lower suwanee,,,not on the river itself but north of the river in the old california swamp area. The adjacent pine forest to the south of the highway that goes from 19 to the end of the river is probably teeming with Ivory Billed Woodpeckers,,,but no one has searched.
The Withlacoochee in central Florida probably has birds. Anywhere from Palm Coast south to the Tomoka Basin is probably a good place to search.
And the Loxahatchee is a place where I have had good tips and reliable sightings come from.
West and north of the Okeefenokee swamp are good and I had a reliable sighting come from this area along 441.
There you go folks, if you'd like to e-mail me I am at
William Smith.