January 23, 2008

C.U. Ornithologist Honored

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Tim Gallagher, editor in chief of Cornell’s award-winning Living Bird magazine, has recently been named one of the 50 most influential Britons in America by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
“It was a complete shock. It’s almost only in Britain that they’ll put a bird watcher on the list,” laughed Gallagher, who works in the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
However, Gallagher is no ordinary bird watcher. He is one of the first people to see and identify the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a bird that was thought to be extinct in the 1940s. The 2004 rediscovery of the bird in Arkansas has raised public awareness of the conservation of Bottomland Hardwood Forests in the South, where the bird’s population has decreased by more than 80 percent in the last 200 years.
“The bird … led to a greatly renewed conservation effort,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Lab of Ornithology.
The Big Woods Conservation Partnership was formed under 40 days after Gallagher’s first sighting of the woodpecker. The Partnership is co-led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Nature Conservancy. According to the Big Woods Conservation Partnership’s website, it is striving to conserve 200,000 acres in the Arkansas Big Woods over the next decade.
In The Grail Bird, Gallagher’s book, he not only documents his long quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but also helps bring attention to the endangered wetlands
“I think [my book] really re-awoke a lot of interest in the Ivory-billed [Woodpecker] and the habitat of the southern Bottomland swarm, which I think is the most neglected habitat in the country,” he said.
Gallagher hopes that more successful sightings of the bird will lead to greater efforts to restore the forests. Since the rediscovery of the bird four years ago, at least 20 agencies, including universities, conservation groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are now involved in the search for woodpecker pairings. [img_assist|nid=26789|title=A bird in hand|desc=Tim Gallagher, one of the 50 most influential Britons in America, according to The Daily Telegraph.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Although the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has made the bird a symbol of hope for many conservationists, Gallagher is still concerned that the bird might once again return to the list of extinct animals.
“When we first found the bird, the fact that it’s still alive in the 21st century … seem[ed] really hopeful to me. Now I don’t know if it’s a happy story or not. We haven’t been able to find any nesting pairs. I don’t know at this point if we’ve just come in at the end of the story and that’s a fear for me. I just hope we’re not too late,” he said.
Gallagher has been interested in the Ivory-billed Woodpecker for decades. His search for the bird began when he tried to keep a record of previous sightings of the bird. By interviewing many people who claimed to have seen the bird, Gallagher eventually made contact with a kayaker in Arkansas who saw the woodpecker one week prior to Gallagher’s visit. After talking to the kayaker, Gallagher and “long term Ivory bird chaser” Bobby Harrison spent a week camping out trying to find the woodpecker. Gallagher and Harrison’s successful sighting of the bird in February 2004 eventually led to more search efforts. Two months later, a videotape proved the existence of the bird.
“He never gave up hope on the bird … [There is] a lot of hard work and perseverance,” said Rosenberg, who has been Gallagher’s colleague for 15 years.
When asked whether being aligned with notable people like Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, and David Beckham has made any difference in his life, Gallagher said that it is still too soon to tell.
“I’m still waiting for my knighthood!” he laughed.