Ivory-billed Woodpecker

In August 2005, evidence supposedly came to light that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker may not be extinct after 60 years of assumptions that it was.
Even if it survives as a species, it is still most definitely one of the Fifty Rarest Birds of the World

Campephilus principalis

Five years after such a huge frenzy of excitement in the ornithological world, it is widely surmised that the sightings were not what was thought. There has been no suggestion of any contrivance around the sightings.

Below is our reportage of the event at the time. The "Fifty Rarest Birds of the World" project was was frequently cited as Blake Twigden's image of the ivorybill is one of the few available, given that it was 65 years since photogaphers ever had an absolutely certain chance of catching this species on film – which was only a small chance because the beautiful birds were not exactly populous as they plunged to extinction.

UPDATE: From Brinkley, Arkansas, the news as at 25 April 2006 is that no further sightings or supposed sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker have been claimed.

THE SAGA SO FAR: The challenge by Dr Prum and colleagues has been WITHDRAWN!!! (August 3, 2005)
See our article.
Ivory-billed Woodpecker Challenge Withdrawn (August 12, 2005)

The rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker is being doubted by a group of scientists, Dr Richard Prum et al. See our article. Click below:
"The Ivory-billed Woodpecker Parade Being Rained upon" (August 1, 2005)

OUR LINKS TO RELEVANT INFORMATION AND NEWS OF THE IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER:

See the picture of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker which is almost certainly the most recent painting of the "Grail Bird" painted from an actual ivorybill body and feathers.

The original Science magazine article reporting the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Detailing the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

CNN has updates on the sound recordings that underscore the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker

NPR reports the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

National Public Radio's 'Living on Earth' program has covered the withdrawal. See the transcript.
You can even listen to Yale's Dr Richard Prum and Cornell's Richard Gallagher.

The Big Woods Conservation Partnership Site - their account of the ivorybill's rediscovery

Recovery efforts for the rediscovered Ivory-billed Woodpecker (FWS)

New Scientist on the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
The ivorybill is not alone!
A rediscovery claim in New Zealand is similarly causing excitement for birders. The South Island Kokako sub-species may also exist after 30 years of supposed extinction, if audio evidence gathered in January this year, 2006, is to be believed. More info

The image (above) of the ivory-billed woodpecker is from a collection of artworks created for the "The Fifty Rarest Birds of the World" project by world-renowned wildlife artist Blake Twigden. The project culminated in the production of a limited edition, collectible book of the same name.
Click here for a larger-screen view, though it still only half the size and quality of the image in the book itself.
The exciting news (April 2005) of the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker prompts us to share with you the words accompanying Blake Twigden's wonderful work of art depicting this extraordinary species in the book "The Fifty Rarest Birds of the World". The text was written by Dr Mark Cocker, of the International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, UK. The book was completed in 1991.

Campephilus principalis

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

One of the world's largest woodpeckers, this striking black-and-white species was formerly distributed throughout the south-eastern USA, from Illinois, Kentucky and North Carolina south to the Gulf of Mexico and Cuba. Today, pine woodlands in the north-east of this Caribbean island almost certainly constitute the species' final refuge.

It has been estimated that each pair of woodpeckers requires about 16 square kilometres of prime, undisturbed forest, and at such a low density throughout most of its range the species was never very common. By 1900, deforestation and a certain amount of persecution from commercial collectors had eliminated the bird from all but the southernmost portions of its mainland range. In the 1960s and 1970s, stray indiviudals were recorded from swamp-forest sites in parts of Louisiana and Texas, but the bird is now almost certainly extinct in the USA.

The tiny Cuban population of the indistinct race C.p.bairdii is known to persist in mature pine forest, where the birds feed by stripping the bark from dying or dead trees to expose beetle larvae. With its very powerful bill, it is able to excavate large holes to extract the deeper-boring insects.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is also an extremely shy species and difficult to observe. During a survey in 1986 to examine a population on the Yarey River in northern Guantanamo province, birds were only seen on eight occasions, none of these for more than 60 seconds, in 45,000 minutes of searching. The recent location of woodpeckers at this site has met with a positive response from the Cuban authorities. Corridors of forest have been left between the Yarey River and the nearby Jaguani and Cupeyal forest reserves and logging activities have ceased in the immediate vicinity. Trees along defined tracks were also ring-barked to provide the woodpeckers with dead timber and additional feeding sites.


FOOTNOTE: The above text was written for the book in 1991. It describes the ivory-billed woodpecker's status as it was thought to be then. It was not thought by ICBP to be extinct then, contrary to the view of various authorities, particularly in the US.


Ivory-billed Woodpecker Challenge Withdrawn

by Matthew Bird*

The much-vaunted, high-level challenge to the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed woodpecker has been withdrawn.

It seems that ornithologists Richard O. Prum, of Yale, and Mark B. Robbins, of the University of Kansas, and zoologist Jerome A. Jackson, of Florida Gulf Coast University, have been swayed by audio evidence from many hours of sound recordings in the Arkansas marshlands where the claimed rediscovery was made. They have formally withdrawn the paper that had been submitted to the Public Library of Science.

The skeptics' newfound approval has added great weight to the original redisovery by Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (he is editor of Living Bird, the Lab's magazine), and the highly experienced and respected Alabama birder Bobby Harrison. Right now, there appears to be no dissent about the finding reported in the June 3 edition of the prestigious and respectable magazine, Science (pre-published online in April 2005).

There have been 15 claimed sightings spanning February 2004 to February 2005, and seven of these were described in the Science magazine article. They all appeared to be close-range sightings by experienced observers (mainly from the Cornell Lab) able to distinguish the unique flight characteristics and markings of the ivorybill.

The thrust of the skepticism from Richard Prum and colleagues appeared to be what they perceived as a lack of conclusive, demonstrable proof. Exhibit A was a momentary and fuzzy video recording of the flying specimen. But that was before they had a chance to examine the sound recordings. The nasal "kent" call and double raps on a tree are so characteristic of the ivory-billed woodpecker that there seems no doubt. They conclude that there is at least a pair of ivorybills in there.

Bobby Harrison is certain of what he saw, on more than one occasion. But even he says he would rather have been able to produce a much clearer still photograph of the ivory-billed woodpecker they saw and videotaped. No doubt, this is on their agenda in the coming months.

Even without the analysis of the sound recordings, Bobby Harrison and the Cornell Lab team were sure of their ground. The video still frames had been correlated to authentic photographs and sketches of the ivory-billed woodpecker taken when the bird was definitely still in existence 60-plus years ago.

Furthermore, the analyses included observations of field marks consistent with what is known of this stunning bird from the literature. Compelling evidence also came from the fact that the observers in the key 27 February 2004 sighting independently recorded their observations, which were later found to be a very close match - not only to each other's observations, but to those of observers pre-1945.

The wing beat rate (9 per second) was also confirmed by the video recording, as were the distinctive white markings on the trailing edge of the wings.

If it were to be a case of mistaken identity, the other identity would that of the pileated woodpecker. Although there are great similarities between the two species, it seems the credentials of the observers in the Arkansas marshlands are above being fooled into thinking these sightings were of the pileated.

Now, it seems, everyone agrees. We can go back to using such expressions as "the ornitholigal equivalent of Elvis being found alive and kicking" and "Lazarus-like from the grave".

See below our article on the challenge when it was mounted. The article reflects a situation which is no longer current, but appears here for the record!
This challenge by Dr Prum and colleagues has been WITHDRAWN!!!

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Rediscovery Parade being Rained Upon
The Find Now Doubted

by Matthew Bird*

When the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed woodpecker was announced and described in April this year, it set off a parade of excitement. It included such expressions as "the ornitholigal equivalent of Elvis being found alive and kicking" and "Lazarus-like from the grave". Now the parade is being rained upon.

A seemingly authoritative group of skeptics have emerged and they are marshalling their doubtful thoughts in readiness for publication in an as yet unnamed scientific journal. The group includes ornithologists Richard O. Prum, of Yale, and Mark B. Robbins, of the University of Kansas, and zoologist Jerome A. Jackson, of Florida Gulf Coast University. The New York Times reports that David Allen Sibley, the famous author of birders' field guides, has lent his weight to the skeptics' argument.

The thrust of the skepticism appears to be what they perceive as a lack of conclusive, demonstrable proof – even if the February 2004 findings were reported in the June 3 edition of the prestigious and respectable magazine, Science (pre-published online in April 2005).

Exhibit A, a momentary and fuzzy video recording of the flying specimen, is not considered to be enough proof. No-one is doubting the integrity or credentials of the rediscoverers. They are simply doubting the strength of the evidence. The insinuation is that the rediscoverers may have been honestly mistaken. A pileated woodpecker perhaps. When it is considered that the pivotal eye witness team included Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (he is editor of Living Bird, the Lab's magazine), and the highly experienced and respected Alabama birder Bobby Harrison, it is not surprising that the criticism is somewhat polite.

Bobby Harrison is certain of what he saw, on more than one occasion. But even he says he would rather have been able to produce a much clearer still photograph of the ivory-billed woodpecker they supposedly saw and videotaped. No doubt, this is on their agenda in the coming months.

Their original findings were not presented in a knee-jerk fashion either. It was a very well thought-out presentation that included extrapolations of the single-framed images captured in the video, also sharpened video imagery. The video still frames have been correlated to authentic photographs and sketches of the ivory-billed woodpecker taken when the bird was definitely still in existence 60-plus years ago.

THE VERY LATEST: The challenge by Dr Prum and colleagues has been WITHDRAWN!!!

The analyses include observations of field marks consistent with what is known of this stunning bird from the literature. Compelling evidence also came from the fact that the observers in the key 27 February 2004 sighting independently recorded their observations, which were later found to be a very close match - not only to each other's observations, but to those of observers pre-1945.

The wing beat rate (9 per second) was also confirmed by the video recording, as were the distinctive white markings on the trailing edge of the wings.

If it is a case of mistaken identity, the other identity is that of the pileated woodpecker. Although there are great similarities between the two species, it seems the credentials of the observers in the Arkansas marshlands are above being fooled into thinking these sightings were of the pileated.

There have been 15 claimed sightings spanning February 2004 to February 2005, and seven of these were described in the Science magazine article. They all appeared to be close-range sightings by experienced observers (mainly from the Cornell Lab) able to distinguish the unique flight characteristics and markings of the ivorybill.

Ironically, if there is anything that this observer perceives as an apparent weakness in the case for proclaiming the existence of the ivory-billed woodpecker, it is that the line-up of observers is too heavily weighted in favour of the Cornell Lab. Five of the seven observations reported in Science were by people connected to the Lab. A variety of observers from a number of different institutions would have been better for credibility.

On another front, sound recordings have also been made in the Arkansas marshlands. Whilst inherently inconclusive by virtue of a lack of matching visual evidence, they are nevertheless compelling.

Meanwhile, the details of the skeptics' case is as yet largely unrevealed. The birding community awaits with bated breath the academic debate that is sure to rage once that paper is published.

THE VERY LATEST: The challenge by Dr Prum and colleagues has been WITHDRAWN!!!

* Matthew Bird is manager, "The Fifty Rarest Birds of the World" project. "The Fifty Rarest Birds of the World"

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