May 25, 2023 I Paul Seaburn

More Video Evidence is Released Showing Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers are Not Extinct

When it comes to declaring animals extinct, guilt often plays an important part in wildlife officials making an official decision – no one wants to be considered responsible for hunting, fishing, pesticiding, eating, deforesting or developing a species off the planet, especially if it is well-known or cute … in an anthropomorphic way, of course. The ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) would fit into that last category – these large, colorful and unusual birds once drilled the hardwood trees of the Southern United States and Cuba large beetle larvae – thus filling their bellies and providing a useful service to farmers and tree lovers. Logging and hunters looking to taxidermy the birds drove them to apparent extinction – no official ivory-billed woodpecker sightings occurred after 1944, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the species be declared extinct in 2021, with a final decision expected by the end of 2023.

Or maybe not.

A 1935 photo of Ivory-Billed woodpeckers taken in Singer Tract, Louisiana. (public domain)

“We have multiple lines of evidence and repeated observations of multiple birds.”

Researchers from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh published a paper, “Multiple Lines of Evidence Suggest the Persistence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Louisiana,” in the peer-reviewed journal Ecology and Evolution which presents strong evidence in the form of drone videos, visual observations, acoustic recordings and trail-cam photos showing what appear to be multiple ivory-billed woodpeckers in Louisiana. These would be the first confirmed photographs of the species since the 1930s and validate what many have been saying since then – ivory-billed woodpeckers are endangered but not extinct … they’re just hard to see because they like to live high in trees in dense forests. While the exact location of these sightings has not been revealed, it is said to fit the ‘bill’.

"The region they are working in is highly likely to be able support ivory-billed."

Cornell University Professor John Fitzpatrick said in a press release that this new batch of photos and videos substantiates his own two decades of research in similar areas of Arkansas where sightings have been reported, and he’s ready to lobby for the extinction decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be dropped and have the ivory-billed woodpecker returned to the endangered species list.

Steven Latta, the National Aviary’s director of conservation and field research, and co-author Mark Michaels, an independent ivorybill researcher and an attorney from West Chester, New York, support their argument the ivory-billed woodpeckers are alive and almost well with 70,000 hours of audio recordings, 473,000 hours of 34 trail cameras monitoring and 1,089 hours of video from more than 3,000 drone flights. In addition, unlike a similar announcement released in 2022, this one is peer-reviewed. Latta and Michaels say their research under the name Project Principalis is “powerful” because of the drone videos from high in the treetops and overall cumulative evidence.

Those are the kinds of things said about the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine, which also disappeared from the wild in the Australian state of Tasmania in early 1900 and the last known member of the species died in a Hobart zoo in 1936. Sightings have continually been reported since then in Tasmania and even on the mainland, where the species was believed to have gone extinct 2,000 years ago, but the evidence present – grainy photos and non-distinct footprints – have never been substantiated with DNA evidence in the form of bones, fir, feces or other remains. Nonetheless, belief that the Tasmanian tiger still exists is strong and searches continue. In the U.S., a number of bird species have dwindled down to a handful of last members – California condors and whooping cranes are two well-known examples – before wildlife experts and ornithologists stepped in to run captive breeding and other conservation projects to boost their numbers in preserves and eventually in the wild. However, development, logging and climate change continue to make it difficult for birds in the U.S. to survive – not to mention absurd movements like “Birds Aren’t Real” which was started as a hoax, spread virally on the Internet, and now has many believers. Needless to say, birds are real and they aren’t happy about this nor their dwindling numbers.

“Data indicate repeated reuse of foraging sites and core habitat. Our findings, and the inferences drawn from them, suggest that not all is lost for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and that it is clearly premature for the species to be declared extinct.”

This new study raises hopes high that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct. In fact, it may exist in substantial numbers that would negate a need for drastic intervention like captive breeding programs to ensure their continued survival and growth.

"All of the flight characteristics are consistent with pileated woodpeckers but not ivory-billed woodpeckers. This video shows a pileated woodpecker."

Not everyone agrees with Latta and Michaels that Project Principalis has proven the ivory-billed woodpeckers are back … or never left in the first place. Michael Collins, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory, who claims to have seen them within the last decade in the Pearl River area along the Louisiana-Mississippi border, doubts that those thousands of hours of web cam monitoring and videos have captured ivory-billed woodpeckers – he thinks they picked up the more common pileated woodpeckers which have a similar look, especially when the photos are blurry and black-and-white. Ivory-billed expert Geoffrey Hill from Auburn University says he understands where doubters like Collins are coming from, even though he thinks the study presented a "compelling set of evidence."

Do the photos and videos look like this old drawing?

"People have made up their minds. Unless they get smacked in the face with a dead bird or see it on an IMAX movie, they aren't going to change their minds."

That could be painful, but it would be positive proof, just like an off-road vehicle running over a Tasmanian tiger. It sounds like that’s the kind of evidence one organization is looking for.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not comment on non-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publications or articles.”

Jennifer M. Koches, a spokesperson for the federal agency’s Southeast Region, isn’t ready to support the study. A disclaimer in the study indicates that the National Aviary itself is not behind the study, even though one of the co-authors works for them.

Whether you believe the photos and videos prove the existence of the ivory-billed woodpecker or not, the study was released a day before National Endangered Species Day (the third Friday in May) and that should call attention to the tens of thousands of mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles and other species around the world facing extinction due to the actions of humans.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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