Synopsis by Mark Deming
It is estimated that between 50 and 70 million Americans pursue bird watching as a hobby, and most of them are people who thrive on the prospect of finding a specimen they haven't seen before. In February 2004, a birder kayaking in an Arkansas swamp videotaped what he believed was a remarkable find -- an ivory-billed woodpecker, a large and impressive creature that was believed to have been extinct for half a century after unregulated clear-cutting of forests destroyed its habitat. The sighting was major news among avian researchers, and Cornell University's Ornithology Lab sent a team to Arkansas in hopes of finding a living ivory-billed woodpecker. Hundreds of bird watchers followed them to Brinkley, AR, in hopes of seeing the great bird themselves, and in a town that had been caught in an economic tailspin, the appearance of the woodpecker seemed like a stroke of remarkable good luck. Soon local entrepreneurs were opening gift shops and motels to take advantage of the influx of birders, and a local barber even devised a "woodpecker haircut." But amidst the excitement came a number of researchers who said that they had little hard evidence that what had been sighted was in fact an ivory-billed woodpecker, leading to a contentious debate among bird fanciers and folks in Brinkley who didn't want to lose their windfall. Filmmaker Scott Crocker takes an in-depth look at the sudden reappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker and its many consequences in the documentary Ghost Bird, which was an official selection at the 2009 Hot Docs International Film Festival.
extinction, rediscovery, woodpecker