Published May 04, 2009Ghost Bird is a beautifully photographed investigation into a sighting a few years ago of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in the swamps of rural Arkansas. The huge woodpecker species has long been considered a kind of birdwatcher's Holy Grail: a beautiful and imposing creature that hasn't been seen in over 60 years.
When a kayaker spots a white-winged Woodpecker (the biggest he's ever seen) in the woods in the early 2000s, the birding community is thrown into quite a tizzy. Very shortly after the questionable sighting (even the kayaker admits it was only a brief glimpse), the Cornell lab of Ornithology launches a study and government officials triumphantly announce the rediscovery of the species.
In the sleepy community of Brinkley, Arkansas, near the sighting, everything is suddenly Ivory-Billed themed, from haircuts to breakfast specials, as locals start realizing that their little town is at the centre of the soon-to-be controversial discovery. Town officials hope that the bird will bring a much-needed boost to the area, making Brinkley a sort of tourist Mecca for bird enthusiasts. One local reporter likens Brinkley to Roswell, New Mexico — regardless of whether the aliens at Area 51 (or in Brinkley's case, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker) are proven to be real, die-hards will continue to flock there.
The fleeting glimpse of a white-winged bird on the kayaker's video is the only clue to the existence of the large woodpecker, and soon scepticism rears its head amongst the birder and ornithologist communities. Several years, fierce Internet debates and millions of research dollars later, there's still no proof that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker isn't extinct.
Fascinating discussions with fanatical birders and earnest scientists are interspersed with beautifully photographed shots of the Arkansas bayous in this fascinating exploration of the social climate that made the questionable rediscovery of this majestic bird such big news. Of course, it's these same forces that subsequently made the money spent on the search for the bird (when other species are in imminent danger of becoming extinct) seem insane and wrong-headed, from both an environmental and economic point of view.
A funny, informative and touching look at how the discovery of something long thought to be lost forever can give hope and galvanize a community, even if it's not exactly real. (Small Change)