One of the USA’s most hotly-debated conservation questions seems finally to have been answered. For years, ornithologists have considered the huge Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, to be extinct, but many well-respected biologists continued to report sightings. Down to an estimated 30 birds by the 1930’s, none had been observed for decades despite intensive searches and rewards, including one of $50,000 posted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Recent video and acoustic recordings (Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, please see below), however, seem to establish that this magnificent bird is still with us.
Confusion with the Pileated Woodpecker
A researcher from the US Naval Research Lab observed and recorded what appeared to be an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker as early as 2006. However, in common with other sightings, there was some confusion – the bird sighted could also have been a Pileated Woodpecker, which is similar in appearance to, and nearly as large as, the Ivory-Bill. It too favors the remote, flooded swamplands of the American Southeast (please see photo of typical habitat).
A Clue Over-looked for 70 Years
Video recordings of the bird were also contested, because certain unique characteristics in the Ivory-Bill’s wing-flapping style were missing. However, a careful review of earlier evidence led to an over-looked clue contained in a photo taken in 1939. With this new knowledge, woodpecker experts were able to determine that recent videos did indeed depict an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.
Two audio recordings made along Louisiana’s Pearl River, which were consistent with videos taken at the same time, add weight to the evidence that this rarest of North American birds still holds on in small numbers. One of the videos was especially important as it was taken as a bird flew below a researcher, who was perched high in a cypress tree. This image reveals defining characteristics not captured in other photos of suspected Ivory-Bills.
Researchers in Florida and Arkansas have also submitted evidence indicating that Ivory-Bills may survive in those states as well.
The Cuban Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, considered by some to be a subspecies of the North American, has not been sighted since 1987.
The Recovery Plan
Once found in 13 states in the south-central and southern USA, this largest of all woodpeckers needs massive support if it is to survive. You can learn what is being done on it’s behalf in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Plan.
Article mentioned above, including latest recordings of the Ivory-Bill’s call.
Ivory-billed woodpecker image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jerry A Payne
Morava’s flooded forest image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Doronenko