Ornithology: A wing and a prayer

From Nature:

Woodpecker_1 The Big Woods in Arkansas is not a good place to be on a hot summer day. The swampy forest is thick with mud, poison ivy and snakes. Yet early last month, a dozen scientists slogged their way through these bottomlands towards a mesh tent abuzz with insects — the heart of an unusual US environmental project. The group’s goal is to save the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), a magnificent bird thought to have died off at least 50 years ago as its forest habitat was chopped down. In April, a team led by ornithologists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, stunned the birding world by saying they had evidence that the woodpecker still lived in the Big Woods (J. W. Fitzpatrick et al. Science 308, 1460−1462; 2005). Now more scientists are braving the wilderness as part of a federally sanctioned ‘recovery team’, charged with plotting a course to produce a healthy population of the birds. Near the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, where the ivory-billed was reportedly rediscovered in February 2004, the team has cut the trunks of trees to create deadwood. The deadwood, in turn, should become home to insect larvae, which are the woodpecker’s favourite food. If the elusive ivory-billed shows up to snack, the scientists can use the insects in the tent to identify the larvae and better understand the bird’s eating habits. (Picture from birdingamerica).

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