Bookmarks Issue: 

Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

A-GrailBirdIn the latest work from award-winning writer, photographer, and editor-in-chief of Living Bird magazine, Gallagher takes you on an expedition from the offices of New York to the swamps of Louisiana. Gallagher solves the mystery of the missing ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to be extinct, by spotting it in eastern Arkansas for the first time in 50 years. He pieces together clues from a unique cast of characters, from ornithologists to amateur birdwatchers, and embarks on a journey that leads to one of this century’s greatest birding discoveries.
Houghton Mifflin. 272 pages. $25. ISBN: 0618456937

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"[Gallagher] does a wonderful job documenting the natural history and tracking the lore of the ivory-billed woodpecker from its initial description by Mark Catesby in 1712 as the ‘Largest White-bill Wood-pecker’ to Gallagher’s personal rediscovery of this bird in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas just 15 months ago. The book reads like a mystery novel as Gallagher tracks down lead after lead ..."
Jerald Winakur

Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Revel in the book’s drama, chuckle at its occasional cornball humor, and rejoice in the main characters’ ultimate success. But don’t expect realistic dialect from conversations that appear to have been re-created months or years after the fact." James F. McCarty

Orlando Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Gallagher’s narrative flows easily among a variety of locations and people who played a part in the search. The book’s conversational tone steers clear of scientific jargon, so the reader never feels talked down to or left out of the adventure." Lynn N. Duke

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"This book is a unique and personal perspective on what could be one of the most significant ornithological events of the last 100 years. It is an enjoyable and easy read, a good introduction to the ecology of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a powerful call for conservation, and an exciting birding adventure."
David Allen Sibley

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The Grail Bird is less an ecological study than a portrait of human obsession; if not for the outcome, it could as easily be a book about the hunt for Bigfoot."
Alan Burdick

Critical Summary

Gallagher displays his passion for conversation, competition, and wildlife in his account of the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker—a remarkable event. His conversational tone allows readers to engage in this adventure. But to critics’ chagrin, Gallagher attacks members in the scientific community, whom he claims did not do enough in their search to rediscover this lost species. Despite this criticism, readers will stay close on Gallagher’s heels throughout his adventure, learn about the history of this rare bird, and consider what its rediscovery means for conservation.

Update: Recent news reports have cited experts who are not satisfied with the evidence that Gallagher and his colleagues presented. While a paper challenging their findings is being prepared at the Public Library of Science, new auditory evidence has been released that supports the Gallagher’s findings.

Supplemental Reading

The Big Year A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession | Mark Obmascik (2004): Obmascik follows three top competitors in the American Birding Association’s North American Big Year contest. Which one will spot the most species (745, it turns out) that year?

The Birds of Heaven Travels with Cranes | Peter Matthiessen and Robert Bateman (2001): National Book Award-winner Matthiessen travels the globe to view 15 different species of cranes. The book includes beautiful illustrations by wildlife artist Bateman.