Thursday, September 21, 2006

More Hyperbole from Tim Gallagher

Tim Gallagher is the man who gave us perhaps the most overused metaphor in birding and ornithological history. I refer, of course, to terms such as “The Grail Bird,” “holy grail of birdwatchers,” and “ornithologist’s holy grail” applied to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Was this metaphor ever applied to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (or any other bird, for that matter) prior to the Cornell Lab or Ornithology’s announced rediscovery of that species in April 2005? If it was, it certainly escaped my attention. No, this is marketing at its very best, pure and simple.

Now we have this incredible bit of hyperbole attributed to Gallagher:
Apparently when National Public Radio broke the story of the rediscovery on April 25, 2005, hundreds of people across the United States who were on their morning commute had to pull over to the side of the road—they were crying and couldn’t see well enough through their tears to drive [emphasis added].
--As quoted in this article in the Jackson Hole (Wyoming) Star-Tribune announcing his appearance at a speaking engagement at Casper College.
Whew! I think I need to go dig out my hip boots after that one.

Thanks to Tom Nelson at the Ivory-bill Skeptic blog for bringing this article to my attention.


Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Way back when, Doonesbury needed to kill off Lacey Davenport's birder husband in a suitably amusing way. So, he died of a heart attack as he clicked the shutter of his camera, documenting the ultimate Holy Grail of all birds. His final word was "Immortality." And the bird chosen for this role?

Bachman's Warbler.

September 21, 2006 2:11 PM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

Very interesting. Thanks, Bill. I must have been out of the country or otherwise out of touch, as I don't remember Lacey Davenport ever having a birder husband.

September 21, 2006 2:41 PM  
Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

From wikipedia:

"Lacey's husband, Dick, was an avid birdwatcher. He raised some controversy in a 1986 strip when, while dying, he called upon God to let him get a photograph of a Bachman's Warbler before passing on. Since then he has appeared to Lacey in ghost form."

September 21, 2006 3:13 PM  
Blogger cyberthrush said...

the term Holy Grail of birding for the Ivory-bill was in use when I grew up in the 60's (indeed I got sick of hearing it after the '99 Kulivan sighting); might have even started with RT Peterson or John Dennis in the 50s -- would be an interesting etymological exercise for someone to track down it's first use, but waaaay before Gallagher; and yes there were people interviewed after the '05 announcement who broke down driving on the highway -- what's the big deal about that!? This is just more nitpicky silliness in the midst of real issues and concerns.

September 21, 2006 3:39 PM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

I grew up in the 60's too, cy, and read Tanner's report when I was still in my teens. I don't recall reading or hearing reference to the Ivory-bill as the Holy Grail, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention, or (more likely) maybe my memory is starting to fail me. But you're right, I think it would be most interesting for someone to research the etymology of Holy Grail in reference to IBWOs, birding, and ornithology. I think the "nitpicky silliness" of this issue (and there are many examples) is what makes it so fascinating.

September 21, 2006 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it is hyberbole. I already knew ... and was out of town in a different time zone...I deliberately set the alarm early so I could hear the broadcast when it first aired, even though I obviously could have listened to the podcast at any time later that day. And I cried. Later that day, in the airport, watching the clips from the DOI press conference, I cried.

My boss was at the DOI press conference, and he said that everyone was in tears. I don't know how many people were there - a couple of hundred?

Had I been driving a car, I would have had to pull over to cry.

And I cried again when I read the results of this year's search. If/when someone gets a good photo/video, you'd better issue the flood warnings. And buy stock in Kleenex.

September 21, 2006 9:02 PM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

Okay. I'll accept that some people, maybe even many people, cried at the news; I myself have heard news accounts on NPR that have brought tears to my eyes, but those were human tragedies of one sort or another. I also knew that some sort of big announcement was to be made, and I heard the news in my car while commuting to work. My reaction was one of excitement, sure, but there were no emotional tears and I managed to keep the car on the road and not run into any other vehicles. My excitement was soon shattered, however, when (1) I saw the poor quality of the evidence and (2) learned that Cornell could not account for the presence of more than one bird.

September 21, 2006 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your points are well taken. Despite who first came up with the whole "grail bird" nonsense. Gallagher, Cyberthrush, et al have elevated it's meaning out of all proportion. One to promote a book. One to promote a blog.

The "crying" just fits right in with their effort. It's almost as if they are saying, "how dare you doubt such a great bird".

Well, we are not doubting a great bird. We are doubting their poorly evidenced sightings. And this latest promoted Florida sighting by Cyberthrush is just inexcusably lazy. He's just promoting silliness over reason.

Cyberthrush and Gallagher are in danger of turning the "grail bird" into a national joke. Do they really want to go there? That would be a sad ending to a reputation of a great bird.

Don't ya think?

September 22, 2006 12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be honest. If you saw a great photo or video, wouldn't you cry? If you wouldn't weep for a Bachman's Warbler or an IBWO, then...but I know you would. I wept when I saw a Great Grey Owl in Yellowstone, sitting out on a bush 15 feet from our car in the early dawn. I wept when we (finally) found a Rosy Thrush Tanager after years of searching and near misses (and were rewarded with crippling views). Funny, I don't normally weep at human tragedy. The last NPR story that brought tears to my eyes was the story about the UK cattle farmers having to slaughter their dairy herds when Hoof-and-Mouth struck.

September 22, 2006 6:02 PM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

No, I doubt that crying or weeping would be my reaction to a great photo or video. I have never burst into tears at seeing any bird, no matter how rare or great it was. I'm much more likely to react with whoops and hollers--in subdued moderation, of course.

September 23, 2006 9:23 AM  
Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Silent whooping and hollering, please, until everyone else in the group has a chance to see the bird! Except on a pelagic trip, of course, where screaming at the top of your lungs might be he only way to be heard over the engines...

Subdued whooping and hollering (after it glided silently away) is exactly how I marked my first Great Gray Owl in Yellowstone, cruising over the meadows in Hayden Valley on a gorgeous summer evening. I suspect my own reaction to an IBWO or BAWA in the flesh would be serious trepidation, trembling sweaty hands, and thoughts along the lines of "Ye gods, what have I just gotten myself in to and what the HELL do I do NOW???"

September 24, 2006 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, let's face it. We'd all wet our pants. Is anyone feeling moist this morning, at the official release of the Florida news? Not I. But more reason for hope is always welcomed.

September 26, 2006 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am struck by the fact that an announcement of IBWO has become such a non-event. And the ridicule now is quite high. Almost a return to the Kulivan days.

But what else can we make of no photo and Mennill's comment that he believes the birds are all up and down the river?

It's almost the twilight zone. "Don't adjust your TV sets!" Amazing!

(Or was that the Outer Limits?)

September 27, 2006 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wept. I also wept several more times over the next few weeks, at various moments when I thought about the news. Not every time, but several times.

September 27, 2006 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What do you make of this lastest Auburn paper, sighting, etc? I really didn't think anyone would try to publish again without a photo.

I have to praise their openness of data. But if nobody ever gets the good pic, will this not be a great episode for psych classes?

September 29, 2006 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to think of it as the "string theory bird" seemingly impossible to prove, the subject of many theories and possibly living in another dimension.

September 29, 2006 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where you gone, John? Don't tell me. Let me guess.

You've gone to Florida too?

October 02, 2006 9:31 AM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

Thank you, Jessica, for your very kind comments about the quality of my blog. I would like to believe that your comments are sincere and not simply a ploy to lure me into using a Web site that you happen to be promoting. But I'm sure you can understand my skepticism.

October 05, 2006 12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think that there is place in the Ivory-billed debate for some resonable assumptions to be made. First, there are probably many on BOTH sides of the debate who, for no other reason than name recognition, issued thier opinions. But I think that it is reasonable to believe that the bird exists for no other reason than there is so much area that human eyes have never seen and it just hasn't been that long ago since the bird was photographed and was hunted in widespread areas. I firmly believe that the word "EXTINCT" shouldn't even be used unless no sightings have been reported in at least 100 years. This bird has indeed had it's numbers depleated through both logging and hunting, but I think that it will be found to be both alive and thriving in some of the dense and relatively unexplored regions of the South-eastern United States.

January 31, 2007 10:44 PM  
Blogger Timtak said...

The Series Four, number 6 episode of "Greys Anatomy," "Kung Fu Fighting" (November 1, 2007) eatured a guy that manages to stay alive through fully conscious open heart surgery with the dream of seeing an ivory billed wookpecker.

I wish I understood the attraction.

June 18, 2009 11:24 PM  

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