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‘Extinct’ Bird Species Lives


A North American bird believed to have become extinct in 1944 has apparently re-appeared. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker was rediscovered in February 2004 when it was reportedly spotted twice by witnesses that many bird experts consider highly reliable. But other wildlife professionals are not so sure. And now – as VOA's George Dwyer reports – a new film is under production that examines the controversy surrounding the mysterious creature known as "The Lord God Bird."

Rare film footage – shot in 1935 – shows two Ivory Billed Woodpeckers, a species that was thought to have gone extinct.

"This is, of course, the iconic endangered species in North America. There is no more famous endangered species than this bird," says John Fitzpatrick, Director of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology in New York. Back in 2005 he addressed reporters at a U.S. government sponsored news conference announcing the re-discovery of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker.

"The ivory billed woodpecker has been rediscovered,” he said. “It lives in the big woods region of Eastern Arkansas, and perhaps other places around the Southeast still as well."

No confirmed sighting of the bird had been reported for decades, when suddenly in February 2004 two sightings were reported in a remote area of the southeastern United States.

In April of that same year an amateur naturalist shot images of a bird believed to be an "Ivory Billed." But opinions vary on whether the bird caught on tape is really the elusive woodpecker.

"This is a bird that ornithologists and birdwatchers have been searching for over a century,” explains Fitzpatrick. “It went through several periods of time where it was declared extinct, then re-discovered again, then disappeared again."

Photographer Bob Harrison says he has no doubt the bird exists. "The controversy over whether this bird is out there or not – it is no controversy. I have seen the bird. I have seen the bird five times. I know it is there."

Whether it actually is – or not – is the subject of a recently previewed documentary by noted America film director George Butler.

"The film is about the tension between the people who love the bird and believe it exists and the coolly objective ornithologists who say it can not possibly exist –- it is extinct,” says Butler. "Any way you look at the story it has got interesting angles."

Butler's film, titled "The Lord God Bird," is still in production. But the filmmaker provided VOA with scenes of the work in progress.

"And it is called, amongst other names, 'The Lord God Bird,' because when someone sighted the bird they would shriek out, 'Lord God, what was that that flew by?’ "

All of a sudden it seems a lot of people are asking that question once again.

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