In 1935 naturalist James T. Tanner was a twenty-one-year-old graduate student when he saw his first ivory-billed woodpecker, one of America's rarest birds, in a remote swamp in northern Louisiana. At the time, he was part of an ambitious expedition traveling across the country to record and photograph as many avian species as possible, a trip organized by Dr. Arthur Allen, founder of the famed Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Two years later, Tanner hit the road again, this time by himself and in search of only one species - that ever-elusive ivory-bill.
Drawing on Tanner's personal journals and written with the cooperation of his widow, Nancy, "Ghost Birds" recounts, in fascinating detail, the scientist's dogged quest for the ivory-bill as he chased down leads in eight southern states. With Stephen Lyn Bales as our guide, we experience the same awe and excitement that Tanner felt when he returned to the Louisiana wetland he had visited earlier and was able to observe and document several of the 'ghost birds'-including a nestling that he handled, banded, and photographed at close range.
Investigating the ivory-bill was particularly urgent because it was a fast-vanishing species, the victim of indiscriminate specimen hunting and widespread logging that was destroying its habitat. As sightings became rarer and rarer in the decades following Tanner's remarkable research, the bird was feared to have become extinct. Since 2005, reports of sightings in Arkansas and Florida made headlines and have given new hope to ornithologists and bird lovers, although extensive subsequent investigations have yet to produce definitive confirmation.