Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FSW) declared the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct. That, however, proved to be a premature move. That’s according to a team of researchers, bringing a new glimmer of hope for the bird’s existential status after reporting the woodpecker alive and pecking in the forests of Louisiana.
Still hanging on
The elusive bird had its last widely accepted sighting in 1944. The new series of pictures and observations from the research team shows that the evasive species is still hanging in there, according to the research.
The quest to find the woodpecker took almost three years and involved researchers spending days upon days walking through the woodlands of Louisiana observing birds and taking audio recordings. To take pictures of the bird, the scientists used a drone, as well as trail cameras to capture images on a time-lapse.
Conservationist Steve Latta, who led the team behind the rediscovery, said each member had encountered the ivory-billed woodpecker and heard its call. Latta himself was thrilled to observe the birds fly right in front of him. “It flew up at an angle, and I watched it for about six to eight seconds, which was fairly long for an ivory-billed woodpecker,” he said. “I was surprised. You realize you’ve seen something special that very few people had the opportunity to see.”
The ivory-billed woodpecker is considered to be the largest woodpecker species in the US. The males wear a distinct red crest on their heads, while both the females and males have unique white edges on their wings. The bird was once quite common in the region, but its population dropped sharply as a result of habitat destruction and overhunting.
“No one has held a camera and got a picture of one in years because it’s a scarce bird in tough swampy habitat and they don’t want people close to them because they’ve been shot at for 150 years,” said Geoffrey Hill, who took part in another trip to find the bird in Florida back in 2005. “They have better eyes than we do, they are high in the trees and actively flee people. They aren’t great thinkers, but they have developed a pretty simple strategy to avoid people.”
Whether or not this rediscovery means the species is bouncing back, and able to reproduce in significant numbers, is unclear, but for now, sighting the woodpecker for the first time in so long is very encouraging.
Source Study: bioRxiv — Multiple lines of evidence indicate survival of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Louisiana
This story was part of our Best of 2022 series highlighting our top solutions from the year. Today we’re featuring environment and climate-focused solutions.