I'm sure you've heard of Ivory-bill hunter, ornithologist, and author Geoffrey Hill.
He's been leading a search for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers along the Choctawhatchee River in Florida since 2005. He wrote about the search in February 2007, and we published an online followup by Hill later that year. He also maintained a website about the project, and he wrote about his efforts in the book Ivorybill Hunters.
What you may not know about Hill is that he's one of the world's leading authorities on the colors of birds. In 2006, he and fellow ornithologist Kevin McGraw edited two scholarly books on the subject — Bird Coloration Volume 1: Mechanisms and Measurements and Bird Coloration Volume 2: Function and Evolution.
Now Hill has written the beautifully illustrated book National Geographic Bird Coloration, in which he describes what scientists know and don’t know about the colors of birds.
I interviewed Hill recently about the new book, about what birders need to know about bird coloration, and about why he still has hope for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. --Matt Mendenhall, Associate Editor
First, congratulations on the book. I think it’s fantastic.
Thanks. Yeah, that was a great opportunity. I couldn’t be more pleased with how National Geographic worked with me on that. How did it come about?
National Geographic has been interested in the Ivory-bill search since the beginning, since things got started with Cornell, before we were even part of it. They got interested in our search and had been building us automated cameras. It was really useful. And their global media group president, Tim Kelly, has been fascinated by this. Through some friends that we made, we arranged for Tim and his wife to come down and paddle into the Ivory-bill site. So a president of National Geographic goes on a tour down on our site, and six months later, when I had this book project and I wasn’t getting anywhere with it outside of academic presses, I just called Tim Kelly.
I felt like it was a friend of a friend with a screenplay. Anyway, he said he’d have my book looked at by their executive publisher, and then we got started on it. But without that connection, there’s no way I could have gotten National Geographic’s attention.
I’ve had this book in mind for a while. I was pitching it to academic press people back in 2000 or 2002, so I had been meaning to write it for a long time. It was nice to finally do it. Do you consider this a follow-up to the two-volume set that you edited?
Maybe more of a companion. I wanted to write a comprehensive treatment of bird coloration. At first, I had this idea that we could do it for scientists and the lay public altogether, and it was very naïve. That turned out not to be possible in any way. The first thing we ended up doing was the technical two-volume Bird Coloration, and that is completely inaccessible to non-scientists. In the end, we made little attempt to make that a prose that you could read. Even scientists can’t read this. It’s a resource. Biologists who do that research pick it up and flip to sections where they need to look up information, know about, cite, but nobody sits in the evening and just reads it. It’s not really meant to be that kind of book.
So when I got done with that, I was even more bent on writing a book that you could pick up and read. And you know, it’s really different. And I still had to be straightened out in a lot of ways by National Geographic. Without their help, I would have made this way too big. They know presentation like nobody’s business.
When we got started on this, I had already written three or four chapters. They told me this book will be 264 pages with 256 illustrations. I said, “How do we know? I haven’t written it yet.”
And they said, “Well, that’s our business model. That’s what it’s gonna be.” And you know, I bought into it, and they were right. That was the right size book. It made it have a good selling price.
My part of the deal was to pare down what I wrote to fit into that size, and their part of the deal was to make it into a beautiful volume, and they certainly came through on their end. And that was a good size. It turned out I didn’t cut anything out. It was just a matter of being more concise throughout.That’s what I was wondering: Was there anything that you had to cut out that you wished you could have kept?
Nothing big. Lots of little details. But I understand completely. I would have lost my audience. Nobody has infinite attention span. And there are a lot of studies now on coloration of birds. If you try to put everything in, it just becomes too much. I think it was a nice balance.
And it was really fun to write. When you write a technical paper, say for The Auk or Ecology, every statement has to be verified with a reference. So if you say female birds prefer red feathers, you follow that with three or four references to previous papers that show that.
And for your original idea for the paper, you have tables and figures and statistics and statistical tests. You talk in jargon, depending on the sub-discipline. And when I wrote this book, I couldn’t do that. The people reading it aren’t trained in any of that. It’s just a narrative. You pretty much have to take my statements as reasonable.
There are citations in the back, very general sort of things. Mostly I cite the two-volume set with the technical detail. So tell me, for someone who has never heard of Geoffrey Hill, why are you qualified to write this? What’s your background?
The one I was probably not qualified to write was the Ivory-bill book [laughs] because I had no training in that kind of stuff. This has been my life, really.
I started doing bird-coloration studies when I was about 22 years old as a beginning master’s student at the University of New Mexico. My whole professional life, I’ve been focused on the colors of birds, and I’ve worked on a broad range of topics in bird coloration: mate choice and dominance, crypsis and how it affects survival, structural colors — the blues and greens — and lots of research on carotenoid colors and melanin pigmentation. I helped create the literature. I read the literature. I know what’s going on in this field as well as anyone.
There’s probably 20 individuals in the world for whom this is the main topic of study for their career. There’s hundreds of people who dabble in it, but the people who are really focused on bird coloration, there are probably about 20 who could have written this book.
The technical compendium, Bird Coloration Volumes 1 and 2 with Harvard [University Press], just putting that together meant that in 2006 I had recently read every paper ever published on bird coloration. So I had no qualms about whether I had the background to write this particular book.You obviously focused this one on birders, people who are not scientists. And you’re a birder yourself, so what guided you as you wrote the book?
It is meant for a broader audience than just birders, but the focus was on birders because that’s clearly the biggest audience of people very interested in birds who aren’t professional scientists. And there are a lot of people out there who are interested in birds who wouldn’t call themselves birders. But birders are the group who potentially love this kind of book.
You’re a birder, so you know. It’s a very consuming hobby or pastime. It’s way more than just getting out with your binoculars. That’s the core part of it. But most of the birders I know keep pretty substantial libraries. They’re really interested in all aspects of birds. Look at the magazine that you publish and the other quite sophisticated magazines that are meant for amateur birders. The topics of discussion are pretty detailed: molt patterns and things like plumage coloration, distributions, migration, ecology, habitat associations. So even though the people aren’t scientists and the discussions are not technically scientific, it’s certain that these are the topics that birders are really interested in. What will a birder learn from your book? How will it help us understand birds better?
Well, I think it will help on at least two levels. First, I hope it satisfies a level of curiosity. There are lots of questions that arise as you look at birds. I just got an e-mail today from a birder who was curious about the red-yellow variants in House Finches that he was seeing in Sibley’s field guide. I wrote back and said the concept of there being a red variant and a yellow variant is not really accurate. It’s a range, a continuum of colors, and the yellow bird he’d sent me a picture of just lies at the lower end.
In this book, I describe the difference between the House Finch color variation and Blue and Snow Geese, white and blue, which is a genetic-based polymorphism. They’re very different types. You could call that a phase or a color type.
For that kind of question, you can go to my book, if you’ve never quite had that straight: What’s the difference between a morph and a color variant? I explain that in my book. That would necessarily help with bird identification. I don’t think most people have trouble telling House Finches apart. A yellow House Finch is still a House Finch.
The second thing is that you could learn to interpret colors more cautiously. For instance, I talk a lot about variable carotenoid pigmentation because it’s subject to changing with levels of parasites and nutrition and access to pigments. So that means that if you’re basing an identification solely on a yellow or red color trait, which is likely to be a carotenoid color, you should think twice about that. The question you should always ask yourself is: Is it more likely that this bird had problems with its carotenoid expression, or is it more likely this bird flew from Japan to North America? You know, it is what it is. It may have flown from Japan, but before you jump to that conclusion, you should think, “Well, this could just be a color aberration caused by these things described in the book — parasites, molt, or whatever.” You mentioned the e-mail you got. What are some of the more common questions you get from non-scientists?
Well, I get lots of Ivory-bill stuff these days. Field sightings. It just doesn’t end with Ivory-bills. Some of it’s really interesting; some of it’s really not interesting. Pictures of Pileateds coming in. I do a lot of that.
This has happened ever since I took my job. In Alabama, there aren’t many professional ornithologists. So all the county agents have learned who I am, and they funnel questions to me. I’ve got a woodpecker banging on the side of my house. I get that every spring. Found a dead bird in my yard, what do I do with it? A lot of it’s not very interesting. But then you get the color questions.
And there’s an account in the book from a few years ago. I got an e-mail, one of these many random e-mails: “Hey Geoff, we’ve got an albino Steller’s Jay in our yard.” Wow, that’s interesting. Right then, we were studying blue structural coloration, and I talked to my grad student Matt Shawkey, and he said, “Well, if we can get a feather from that bird, I could test some key theories about the mechanisms that create blue colors in feathers.”
So I wrote back and said, “Any chance you have a feather?” And they said, “You know, darned if we don’t. This thing was molting in our yard, and we picked up some white feathers at the feeder.” So they sent us the feathers, and we based an entire publication [PDF here] on the feathers from that albino Steller’s Jay.
[The white Steller's Jay at right is the bird Hill and Shawkey studied. Photo by Bill Schmoker.]
This is in the book. It gets a little technical, but blue coloration requires an underlying layer of melanin to catch the back-scattered light. If you don’t catch the back-scattered light, it all comes back out and you get white. This bird had not lost its structures that would create blue, but it had lost the melanin that formed the back-scatter. Matt Shawkey was able to do microscopic work and show the structures were intact and the melanin was missing.
And the bird actually looked a little bit blue at the right angle. So you never know when an opportunity is going to come over the Internet, too.
It doesn’t always have to be a personal gain, you know. It’s part of my job — educating the public and sharing the knowledge that I’ve accumulated. I try to answer any question that comes over from anybody. Are there questions about bird color that come up often?
Well, this book hasn’t been out yet. A lot of the work I’ve done has been in the technical literature, so people know me more for Ivory-bills right now than bird color. But that should change with this book. I imagine I will get more bird color questions.The book is very colorful and full of photos. Were you involved in selecting the pictures in the book?
Every step of the way, yeah. It was nice. I didn’t always have final say. I certainly had a final say. In a lot of cases, we were missing a key picture, and they would give me options: this one or that one. But yeah, I was involved in the selection of every picture in the book. Are there major unanswered questions in the field of bird coloration that you’d like to see solved?
Oh, yeah. There are lots of unanswered questions.
Many of the chapters end with, “We don’t know, we’re uncertain, this needs more work.” And it depends on how you look at it. You could think, “Well, geez, we really don’t know anything.” But actually we know a lot. Considering where we were in the 1960s, we have learned an incredible amount about how birds get their colors. The evolutionary forces that shape coloration. The pigments and the physics of microstructures. And we’re starting to get some neat ideas about how environmental forces shape color, light environment, sexual selection and how that shapes it.
But we still can’t answer basic questions like, Why is an Indigo Bunting solid blue when a Painted Bunting has red and green mixed in with its blue? Nobody can answer that question to any satisfaction. It’s the big questions, such as, Why do birds look the way they do? Once we start with the way they do look, we can show that females choose that color or whatever. But how do we ever get to an explanation for the Zebra Finch’s appearance with the orange cheeks and the bars and all of this stuff? Nobody can answer that, although people are working on it. People like Kevin Omland, who is doing neat studies on oriole plumage evolution [and their] complex patterns.
We still don’t know about some basic pigmentary processes. Parrots have their own pigment set, the psittacofulvins — reds and yellows. Why have parrots evolved their own unique pigment systems and no other birds have ever shown these systems? And parrots, even though they have their own red pigments for feather color, which are some of the most beautiful, they never put them in their bills. A lot of parrots have red or orange bills, but those are carotenoids. So why do you use them [psittacofulvins] in your feathers but not in your bills?
There’s another unique set of pigments: the turacins in the turacos. They’re found only in turacos, only in that endemic African order. That’s another mystery: Why do turacos have their own pigments, and why don’t any other birds use those? Why is it found only there?
[Photo: Hartlaub's Turaco by ori2uru]
One of the things I’m getting into with my lab group is the genetic basis for color displays. How genes regulate color display and how that might tie in to ideas about mate choice and what’s signaled by the colors. There’s an idea that ornamental traits like color displays could signal the genetic quality of a male and disease resistance. This hasn’t been testable until recently because we didn’t have the tools to do genetic analyses. But now there’s a genetic revolution going on in biology. The machinery available for rapid genotyping is amazing. That’s opening doors in all fields of biology, including color studies. Is there a connection between studying colors of birds and bird conservation?
It’s not a tight connection. I wish we could always justify our bird-coloration work in conservation, but of course, birds are one of the flagship animal groups for conservation. It’s the big mammals and birds that often are the focus of conservation. You know, losing a snail, a plant, or a small fish should be of equal value, but it’s not. We just put higher value on birds and large mammals. And it’s the colors of birds, in large part, that make them so fascinating to us and so beloved.
In that way, bird coloration ties into conservation directly. But my bird-color research and my research on conservation biology are pretty distant. Is there a connection between the colors of birds and how they live in their environment?
Oh yeah, that’s a clear link. There’s a whole line of research going on right now that my lab group hasn’t been so much a part of, but I certainly know of it and write about it. It’s the effects of light environment on coloration. This works best in tropical rainforests, where, of course, light is so variable. If you’re in a primary rainforest with tall trees, the forest floor is really dark. It’s brighter mid-canopy, and in the actual canopy, it’s brilliantly bright a lot of the time.
And it’s turning out that you can predict in general what the colors of birds might be in these different light environments based on what would be optimal for displaying a plumage trait.
I do lots of work with carotenoid pigments, which are picked up through diet. What a bird eats and how it deals with parasites and stuff affects the color display. But over evolutionary time, birds with diets that are rich in carotenoids tend to have carotenoid displays.
The crustacean-eating wading birds — flamingos, spoonbills, ibises — as well as the fruit-eating tanagers and seed-eating finches tend to be birds with carotenoid displays. So environment can definitely drive color evolution. You brought up flamingos, and it reminded me of an article we published a few years ago on flamingos in Florida. We did a sidebar on how sightings of flamingos north of the Everglades area were often controversial because there’s a captive flock — you may know about this — in the Miami area, and they’re definitely a lighter shade of pink and red than a wild flamingo would be. So anytime folks see a flamingo in the area, they are suspect of where it’s from. Does that make sense that people should think that way?
Yeah, that’s good, but I think people get a little too confident sometimes. A little bit of knowledge is dangerous. There definitely is a large effect of diet on the feather coloration of flamingos, and when you put flamingos into captivity and you just feed them dog food or whatever, you’ll keep them alive on a high-protein diet, but they’ll lose all their feather coloration because you’re not giving them enough carotenoids.
Color-feeding has become a standard in zoos. But at least a few decades ago, an artificial carotenoid, canthaxanthin, was given a lot to flamingos. It produced a more orangish red or scarlet-red, so those birds were clearly different. But zoos have gotten way more savvy about color-feeding. They’ve learned that different mixes, like salmon, are good sources of natural carotenoid pigments. Others are crustacean shells and waste products from the seafood industry that get ground up and fed to the birds.
I’ve been noticing that the flamingos in zoos look pretty darn good lately. Plus, if you go to a wild flock of flamingos, sure a lot of them are the truly brilliant coloration, but you’re going to get variation, especially with carotenoid pigmentation in any group. You could have some pretty drab wild birds. So just because a wild bird gives the impression that it’s not as bright as the brightest flamingo you’ve ever seen in a picture, I wouldn’t necessarily say that you’ve nailed that completely. I think you would certainly want some data if you could get it. You’d want pictures of that bird, and if you can, get enough information on variation in the wild flock that it might have come from before you just dismiss it out of hand.In your introduction to your book, you talked about your two-volume set and how fascinating information about color was locked away from the lay reader. Can you give me an example of something that was in those books that people don’t know?
Sure. There have been a series of papers recently in the bird literature looking at genetic control of dark/light morphs, including Snow Goose and Blue Goose and dark jaegers and light jaegers. This is really of interest to birders.
It turns out that there was a line of investigation with house mice in laboratories in which they identified a gene for melanin-pigment control. Buried in the literature, highly technical genetic literature that’s far from ornithology. A geneticist who was interested in birds and was a birder, although he didn’t call himself an ornithologist because a lot of his work has been on primates, saw that literature, and he thought, “I wonder if that would explain the polymorphism that all the birders know about like in jaegers?”
[Photo: dark- and light-morph Parasitic Jaegers by Kevin Pietrzak]
He got some samples from Arctic Skua, which I think is Parasitic Jaeger, and Bananaquit, of all things. In the Caribbean, Bananaquits have a black morph and then the normal black and yellow morph. And he looked at Snow Goose, and darned if the gene from the mouse didn’t perfectly predict the color in these birds.
Basically, if a jaeger inherits a certain allele, a form of one single gene, it’s got dark plumage, and if it inherits the other allele, it’s got light plumage. Actually, there is an intermediate expression, too, so if it gets two of the light [alleles], it’s light. If it gets two of the dark [alleles], it’s dark. If it gets one of each, that’s the intermediate morph that we see flying around.
Biologists have figured out the genetic basis for polymorphism and these light/dark birds. To me, that’s fascinating, and it explains from a genetic standpoint why some jaegers are dark and some jaegers are light. You could literally have siblings within a nest that inherit different forms of this allele. Just like your brother could have brown eyes when you have blue eyes. It’s basically under the same sort of genetic control as eye color in humans.
As a scientist, I’m interested in the details, but as a birder, I’m saying, “Wow, this is big! I always wondered about this.” When you’re out birding, a dark-morph Parasitic Jaeger and a light-morph Parasitic Jaeger look more different than most species do. And yet the people who know what they’re doing keep calling them the same bird. You might say, “How can that be? How can birds have such different plumage color and be lumped into the same species?” Well, that’s why. The other one that comes to mind is Red-winged Blackbird. Sometimes you see a little bit of yellow near the epaulets with the red, and other times you don’t see the yellow. And of course, there’s the Bicolored race out in California.
Yeah, the Bicolored just has a red spot.Is that coloration or is that just feathers being moved around?
They definitely don’t depigment the feathers. They have black covert feathers that they can move over the epaulet, moving dark feathers over the red, or they can push the red forward and push them past the dark feathers and get the full display.
[Photo: Red-winged Blackbird by Alessandro Abate]
As a matter of fact, I was sitting at my desk just before you called looking at a new paper that came out on Red-winged Blackbirds that puts together years of data, and with a new study, they can’t find any female choice for that red coloration, which goes along with it being an aggressive display. So females really don’t pay that much attention to it.
The males pay a lot of attention to it. It mediates aggressive encounters in males. And it kind of makes sense. Females focus on habitat. They go pick the best spot in the marsh where they want to build their nest, and they’ll take any male that goes along with that spot. And the males fight to the death for the best spots in the marsh to get the one or more females that are going to move in there. And these use these red epaulets as a key part of this display.
And like you’re getting at, if you signal full aggression all the time, it’s a bad strategy. You have to be able to tone it down once in a while. Maybe move to the edge of the marsh to get food or whatever. You want to be able to hide those epaulets when you’re not in a situation where you need to fight and move without aggression.
But when you’re fighting for your territory, you get those things out and use the whole visual effect.
An experiment was done where they plucked the covert feathers, making males display constantly, and man, those males were put to it. They were constantly in fights to the point where even if they were dominant and aggressive [in the flock], they couldn’t hold up. It was too much fighting all the time, and those birds tended to lose their territories.
These color features are designed to serve these functions in really sophisticated ways. Wow, that’s really fascinating. We’ve written in the magazine about how birds perceive ultraviolet light, and you write about that in the book. How do you in the business keep that in mind as you’re studying color? Is it just the way you work?
Well, it’s key. Basically, we got beat over the head with it. Everyone was reluctant to really pull that into their studies in the late ’80s and early ’90s just because it was hard. Myself and other people in the field weren’t trained in using the spectrometers and what have you. We were just using visual assessments of colors. Everything was going well, and then it started to be presented that birds see in the ultraviolet, and if you ignore the ultraviolet, you’re ignoring really important aspects of coloration.
In science, good arguments win out. You can resist for a while, but you’re gonna lose. If somebody has a better argument than you, you’re gonna lose. And this was a good argument, so everyone in the field has had to adapt to that and include ultraviolet in their analyses of color.
I make the point in the book that this isn’t really relevant for birding. Even though these signals exist and they could be of use, and it would be easier to sort some species if we had ultraviolet abilities, we just don’t. We can’t see it. There’s no device that you can hold up and see the ultraviolet of a bird. You can’t image it; you can’t photograph it. From a birder’s perspective, it’s not relevant. We use our eyes, our photographic equipment, and that’s the world birders have to deal with.
But if you want to know how color functions in the world of birds, you have to include it because they do see it, and they do respond to it. And if you ignore it as a scientist, you’re missing key parts of the whole story of the color displays.I also wanted to ask you, because you had written “The 1200 Club” for us, have you done any more of the Big-Year type birding?
No, I’ve been too busy. I need to get back to it. You know what happened, as part of the Ivory-bill search, I got a digital SLR and a telephoto lens. I had really never photographed birds before. That was part of our problem [on the Ivory-bill search]. We were terribly incompetent with the camera. I figured I better learn how to use this thing, and I got hooked on bird photography. I do more photography than birding now.
In a lot of ways, you say, “Well isn’t it the same thing?” You’re certainly birding when you’re taking pictures. But when you’re birding, you’re completely focused. You’re sweeping with your scope, you’re looking with your binoculars, you’ve got your head up all the time. And when you’re photographing, you know there might be a Great Blue Heron in a great pose down at the water’s edge, perfect, beautiful. And that’s got your attention completely, and you’re not even looking at the rafts of ducks out there or what’s flying over.
Your list is way smaller when you go out with a camera. It’s sort of a different thing.
For me, it’s been a great change-up. I still appreciate birds, maybe more so, but the challenge is not to see how many birds you can get on your list. With photography, it’s getting the perfect picture. You want to get close, you want to get the lighting right. It’s fun, but it’s not the 1200 Club. That’s pure listing, running the whole day, and I love it, but right now, I’m just doing bird pictures. Finally, on the Ivory-bill, what’s the latest?
At our site in Florida, we’ve had nothing for two years. It’s gone dead. I really hope the Ivory-bills haven’t gone dead. We’ve had a smaller and smaller crew out there, which is good, I think. We had such a concentrated set of detections in ’05, ’06, and a little bit into ’07. Now, something’s happened. The birds have moved, perhaps. We’re not getting anything in our old sites.
Mostly, I’m hearing interesting stuff from around the country, and I’m trying to help people who have really credible accounts get some equipment and stuff and get a picture of this thing. It’s just going to take a set of circumstances — a bird in a situation where you can get closer to it, get it in a photographic situation, and get a picture. And the whole thing is going to change overnight as soon as we get a clear picture of these birds.What kind of accounts do you hear from folks?
People will tell you stories, and once you decide that this person can’t be a liar — I’ve been talking to this guy for weeks now, and this guy’s just not a liar, or I have no judgment of character. And if they’re not lying to you, the level of detail is just amazing.
They’re looking at these birds, they’re seeing the plumage characteristics, they’re hearing stuff. You can always start from the premise: We know Ivory-bills can’t exist so we work backward from there and try to explain every facet of this. Or you start to say, “Man, this person is not lying. I have no explanation for this except a living Ivory-bill.”
Another thing that’s interesting is that the really good accounts are always in plausible places: The bottomlands along the Mississippi River, Pearl River system, swamps in the Florida Panhandle. I never get really credible accounts from the Smoky Mountains or the forests up in Michigan. I get accounts from bottomland forests and big river systems from people who are way back in there for some reason, usually hunters or landowners. And you gotta think this is plausible.Boy, it’s fascinating to hear you talk about it.
It is. The thing is, if we’re wrong about this, it’s already being forgotten, it’ll fade away and be a footnote in history, but if we get a picture of one of these birds — definitive, you know, there’s no doubt — everybody’s going to have to rethink all of this certain skepticism.
Everyone who thought for sure it was extinct is going to wonder, How crazy is it that this bird could avoid detection all these decades? It’s going to be a really interesting thing. It’ll be humbling in a way because we’ll see that we don’t quite have dominion over nature like we thought.
I mean, these documentary film guys seem to get pictures of everything — snow leopards in Tibet and stuff. But there have been a few professional videographers who have gone after Ivory-bills and failed. So that means they can’t get everything.Are there automatic cameras that can help you?
That’s what we’re using now. And I’ve had some disastrous failures. We had two out of our six stolen. And I let one go under water when I went to India. I thought it was safe. I thought I had eight feet of water leeway, and by God, the river came up 12 feet. What are the chances?
But we do have equipment, but now I need places to put these cameras. Without any sightings and sound detections, it’s really discouraging. You’re just jamming them out in the woods kind of randomly. If I had had these cameras in ’05 and ’06 when we had these birds in one place for so many months — we really just blew our chance.
You get so few of these opportunities. These birds seem to come into an area and be relocatable so seldom. We didn’t really understand what we were doing. Are you in touch with Jerry Jackson and other Ivory-bill experts?
Well, I could call Jerry any time. Jerry’s gotten pretty skeptical about the persistence of Ivory-bills, so I don’t know what we would talk about. I mean, I see him at meetings, and we’ve been friends for decades. I knew Jerry way before I got into Ivory-bill sightings.
I was just at a meeting with Fitz, you know, John Fitzpatrick [director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology]. We’re all friends. The Ivory-bill thing has really died down. I tell them what I’m hearing, and those guys are mostly onto other stuff.
As far as I know, there are no big animosities out there in the professional circles. Nobody’s just doing Ivory-bills; everyone has other things they do in their research.
Everybody’s pretty much just waiting. Is this ever going to happen? Of course, every day that goes by, skeptics are feeling more confident. We’ll see how it plays out.
I think most people really hope it does. I think most people would be happy to say, “Man, I was wrong, and I’m glad I was wrong.”Well, this has been great, Geoff. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
I really appreciate this opportunity. Thanks very much.
Photos: Geoff Hill by Wendy R. Hood
White Steller's Jay by Bill Schmoker
Hartlaub's Turaco by ori2uru / CC BY 2.0
Parasitic Jaegers by Kevin Pietrzak / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Red-winged Blackbird by Alessandro Abate
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