Japery and Ivory

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — You expect government to be naive sometimes, but some prominent research universities — that’s you, Cornell — treat animals like birdbrains. This week, they formally gave up on finding the ivory-billed woodpecker.

This was reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which for a half-decade has kept a special projects team just for hard-hitting reporting on scientists confirming the bird once considered extinct. (Proving that reports of newspapers going extinct need to be verified by science as well.) The article in Friday — the three paragraphs you can read without a subscription are sufficient because, well, you have me — would go on to note how this began in 2004 with a valid sighting.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is ending its funding of the project, $14 million so far. The administration of George W. Bush authorized the expenditure so it was a conservative use of tax money.

What Fish, Wildlife and Cornell forget is the intelligence of animals. This woodpecker species may not be rare, they’re just cleverer than we assume. Consider how often your pets outsmart you. We think of creatures as guided by instincts of food, mating and migration. While those are necessary — they’ve certainly stood me in good stead — ivory-bills successfully have avoided poachers, habitat developers and other idiots since the 19th century. After the turn of this century, maybe they got a little careless.

Scientists saw an ivory-bill some six times in 2004-05, but not since. Before disappearing, ivory-bill woodpeckers apparently wanted the last “Ha-ha-ha-HAA-ha.” A series of police reports in 2006 documents their path of mischief: Brick’s Birdberg Blotter.

I found these 14 news items from newspapers in towns so small they don’t have Wal-Marts, much less cell towers and the Internet. The 14 blotter briefs make slightly more sense when read from earliest up, Feb. 12 up to Feb. 25.

In 1982, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder recorded “Ebony and Ivory.” On muggy nights in the swamps of southern Arkansas, you can hear among the “kent-like” calls of either ivory-bills or bluejays a twee version of the hit pop song: “Japery and Ivory live together with some tension / Like keys dropped in bogs, here and there, don’t give it a mention.”

Birdberg Blotter: Bayou battle

Copyright 2006 Ben S. Pollock

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Two rangers at Cache River National Wildlife Refuge report breaking up a war between two flocks of woodpeckers. One ranger claimed they fought like in West Side Story.

First ranger said a darker, smaller gang had as many as 24 members, apparently Pileated Woodpeckers, according to field book. Gang of four larger yet faster woodpeckers with more white on wings held them at bay.

Field book appendix confirmed those four were Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, thought extinct. “That’s why they was so mad,” Ranger A reported.

Ivory-bills won in second overtime. Lead male flew down, picked up pine cone in beak and “spiked it.” Then, “I be dogged but he danced an aerial jig,” reported Ranger A.

Inspection of marsh showed that pileated ‘peckers did suffer casualties, but abundant numbers show as a species they’re in no danger from resurgence of ivory bills.

Ranger B told the shift supervisor they arrived at scene after confiscating a “mess of mescal bottles” at picnic pavilion. Noted all grubs from the bottles missing but some still had lots of liquor in them. Confirmed type of beverage by testing manually because analysis kit left at headquarters.


Birdberg Blotter: Ear notch

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Woman on North Linden Avenue reported a man’s ear being bitten outside a Petsmart. The man was her husband, but she called because he was too embarrassed. Victim wearing a red-and-black cap with an ivory bill. HE had just bought 50-pound sack of bird food, “guaranteed to contain not less than 50 percent wood-boring beetles at all stages of maturity.”

Husband said item was on sale, thought it might go in bird feeders instead of seed and better repulse squirrels. At time of attack, he witnessed a flutter of black and white wings, along with high-pitched bird calls that sounded like “Look out, chump.”