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The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Hardcover – May 18, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

This book is an outstanding example of the behind-the-recent-headlines genre. It tells the story of the obsessive quest to find the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was feared to be extinct (no confirmed sightings since 1944). Big, mysterious, iconic, the bird is "a symbol of everything that has gone wrong with our relationship to the environment." In the 19th century, it was plundered by collectors, and in the 20th, extensive habitat destruction seemingly drove it to extinction.

Gallagher, editor of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's publication Living Bird, has searched for the bird off and on for three decades. One day in February 2004 he read a posting on a canoe club Web site about a strange woodpecker that a kayaker named Gene Sparling had seen on a float trip down a remote bayou in eastern Arkansas. Less than two weeks later Gallagher and his fellow seeker, Bobby Ray Harrison, were in the swamp with Sparling, looking for the elusive bird. As readers of headlines know, they found it. The discovery gives us, Gallagher writes, "one final chance to get it right, to save this bird and the bottomland swamp forests it needs to survive."

Editors of Scientific American

From Bookmarks Magazine

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.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2nd Printing edition (May 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618456937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618456932
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tim Gallagher is an award-winning author, wildlife photographer, and magazine editor. He is editor-in-chief of LIVING BIRD, the flagship publication of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Tim got his first field guide at the age of eight, and he's been hooked on birds ever since. His lifelong interest in wilderness exploration has taken him twice to Greenland, where he made two open-boat voyages up the coast to study nesting seabirds and falcons, and to the hinterlands of Iceland, where he climbed lofty cliffs to learn more about the spectacular Gyrfalcon, the world's largest falcon.

Gallagher also spent several years traveling across the South, interviewing people who claimed to have seen the legendary Ivory-billed Woodpecker and following up on their sightings. On one of these journeys down a bayou in eastern Arkansas, he and Bobby Harrison had a close-up view of an Ivory-bill. This sighting quickly led to the largest search ever launched to find a rare bird.

More recently, Gallagher has been on the trail of the Imperial Woodpecker--a spectacular giant woodpecker (and closest relative of the Ivory-bill)--in the vast mesa pine forests of Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental. The last documented sighting of the species took place in 1956, and yet rumors persist among mountain villagers that the birds may still live on in the remotest reaches of this mighty mountain range. To find out if the rumors could possibly be true, author Tim Gallagher set out on a harrowing journey through the high country of the Sierra Madre--a vast, lawless region and now the epicenter of illegal drug growing in Mexico--which he chronicles in his latest book, IMPERIAL DREAMS. He is also the author of PARTS UNKNOWN, THE GRAIL BIRD, FALCON FEVER, and WILD BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY.

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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-written insider's tale of the confirmed sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas in 2004, which amazed all of us who are even remotely interested in birds and wildlife. The last previous confirmed sighting was in 1944, in the NE corner of Louisiana, an area that was logged and destroyed later that year. Interesting, then, that the rare bird, long thought extinct, shows up just upriver in Arkansas.

One of the things that makes Gallagher's book so good is his tracking down various unconfirmed sightings over the years. In light of what we now know, that the ivory-bill lives!, these sightings become much more plausible in retrospect. And there is a pattern that emerges -- sightings across southern Louisiana from west (Sabine River) to central (Atchafalaya Basin) to east (Pearl River). A long-lost tape has been unearthed confirming a 1966 "sighting" (hearing) in the Sabine River area of east Texas. The 850,000 acre Atchafalaya Basin was the location of several sightings in the 1970s and 1980s. A highly credible 1999 sighting in the Pearl River area led to an intensive search that found nothing. It is quite possible therefore, based on the evidence presented in this book, that the ivory-bill survives not only in the Cache and White River area of east-central Arkansas, but in the swamps of southern Lousiana as well!

What's the moral of the story? Habitat preservation! The area in Arkansas is protected land, which was expanded by Nature Conservancy purchases between the February 2004 sightings and the recent public announcement, and protecting critical habitat in the three river basins mentioned above might well secure more elusive ivory-bill populations.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Chris Tessaglia-Hymes on May 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Tim Gallagher's newest book, The Grail Bird, is indeed the truth behind the rediscovery. I've been a follower of Ivory-billed Woodpecker history and sightings for several years. I've tried to read any book that has any noteworthy mention of the species within. This is the best book I have ever come across. It contains a great wealth of information on the history of the species right up to Tim's own personal sighting a little more than a year ago.

Do you know who took the mystery photos of the 1971 Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Tim does. And, thanks to his sleuthing, now I do too. It's all in his book.

Tim is a great writer and a great detective. He tracked down every possible lead he could find and interviewed anyone he thought may have seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker or who knew of someone who had. His interviews and stories are very interesting with great personal lines from Tim that will make you laugh and maybe even cry. After reading his book you will come away feeling as if you were there, right alongside Tim and his friend, Bobby, on their journeys for the truth.

I know you will thoroughly enjoy this.

Good reading!
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Rob Neyer on May 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I assumed we would have to wait a few months, or even a year, for the inside story of the rediscovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait at all, as Tim Gallagher was simultaneously searching for the bird and working on this most excellent book. Another reviewer used the word "perfect" to describe The Grail Bird, and I think that's about right, as Gallagher has somehow arrived at the perfect mix of natural history, detective story, and memoir. It's a delicate balance, and he found it. This book won't be a best-seller, but deserves to be.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Terry Mingle on May 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is an amazing tale of the expeditions to rediscover the elusive (and formerly thought-to-be-extinct) Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Finding this bird (for non-birders reading this review) is the equivalent of finding Elvis Presley alive and well for music fans! And really, Tim Gallagher is the best person to have written it, having been a part of the process from day one. The storyline is good, and the humor that Tim interjects into it really made this book an easy and interesting read. I purchased this book and read it cover to cover all in the same day.

I should also note that before this book was released, I had read "The Race To Save The Lord God Bird" by Phil Hoose, and it was also a good read, but this book pretty much picks up where the Hoose book left off in terms of current efforts and info about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

This book is a MUST HAVE for those interested in the species, or in conservation issues in general, because the message within the story of the amazing rediscovery of this magnificent bird is that perhaps we should ALL be more mindful of conservation issues in general. On that note -- I highly recommend that you buy/read the book!!
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Stan Moore on February 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Like most birdlovers around the world, I was very pleased to hear that the ivory-billed woodpecker had been "rediscovered". The fact that the famous Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology was involved and had published their findings in the journal Science left me with no reasonable doubt that the persistence of this species was now confirmed, and I had little incentive to read Tim Gallagher's book, though I have enjoyed another book by Tim and have even met him in the distant past at a raptor conference and found him to be a very nice fellow.

However, while visiting a friend who is a hard-core birder recently, I found out about a growing skepticism movement involving heretofore silent expert ornithologists who doubt the quality of evidence used to justify the conclusion that the species persists. I learned that some experts have reviewed the Luneau tape frame by frame and have reached completely opposite conclusions that those reached by Cornell. And recently Jerome Jackson, author of the scientific species accounts for both pileated and ivory-billed woodpeckers has published his own account in the journal "The Auk" in which he questions the "faith-based ornithology" of the Cornell crew and states his own opinion that the bird seen in the Luneau video is a normal pileated woodpecker. I find all this controversy within the realm of scientists and birders to be delicious! And so I read the Gallagher book after all.

This is definitely an enjoyable story, with appropriate color, tensions, historic aspects, and interesting people discussed. My impression is that Tim Gallagher is a very nice person, hard-working and well-informed on the history and published encounters of various humans over time with the ivory-billed woodpecker.
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