I can testify that at 7:30 a.m. on March 16, 2006, there was no ivory-billed woodpecker at latitude 34°6 ́48 ̋, longitude 91° 7 ́43 ̋, deep in the spring-greening woods of Arkansas’s White River National Wildlife Refuge. A straightforward enough observation, you might think—but you’d be wrong. When it comes to the Lord God Bird, even the simplest statement invites equivocation and argument.
I was one of about 50 people participating in a “saturation search” of an area where biologists from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (CLO) thought an ivorybill might be present. As I sat quietly on a log with my binoculars and camera ready, listening to morning birdsong, I knew some would say that the entire effort was futile and even nonsensical—that the reason neither I nor anyone else would see an ivorybill was that the last one in the U.S. died a lonely death decades ago, leaving only sad, dried, eye- less skins resting in the ornithological morgues of museum trays.
The ivorybill faithful, on the other hand, have another explanation. They say the bird, in its 21st- century incarnation, has been transformed into a creature as shy as Bambi, as silent as a Trappist monk, as anxious to avoid photographers as a Mafia stool pigeon in a witness-protection program—altogether as invisible to the human senses as a stealth fighter is to radar.