May 19, 2005 – Posted at 2:19 p.m. CDT
JONESBORO, AR -- For bird watchers, the recent discovery of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas is like Elvis coming back to life. The animal, thought to be long extinct, has been spotted near the Cache River and it's got more than a few feathers ruffled.
Those flocking to catch a glimpse of the woodpecker are rebuilding the financial nest of the Natural State.
“It really is like a dinosaur has been discovered in our backyard,” said Jodi Morris of the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center.
The last time the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was seen was in 1944. But with recent sightings, the Arkansas woods will soon be more crowded with bird watchers.
“We can expect 20,000 people directly because of the woodpecker,” said Richard Davies, Director of Arkansas State Parks & Tourism.
Morris said, “We do expect people will be coming to Arkansas from different countries, all over the United States.”
And that's giving State Parks and Tourism officials a reason to get excited.
“There are 46 million bird watchers in America and they spend around $40 billion dollars a year,” said Davies.
“Of all tourists, birders spend more money then most other tourists when they travel,” said Morris, “They are willing to get up at dawn and go tromp out in the woods and swamps to see the birds, but when they come back, they usually want to stay in comfort.”
But spotting one isn't easy...the birds are particular about the trees they eat from. Experts think that Arkansas is a prime breading ground for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. It takes up to six miles of uncut forest to sustain one pair.
“There's only been one male seen during any of the sightings, so we know for sure there's one male, there could be more. Where there is a male, we hope there is a female,” said Morris.
Officials are working to make sure visitors don't destroy the woodpecker's natural habitat. Even one that's been a secret for more than 60 years.