Do we have more evidence that the Ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct?

April 19, 2022 • 1:00 pm

About a week ago I put up a post summarizing a new paper in bioRχiv by Latta et al. reporting the likely persistence of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) in an area of bottomland forest in Louisiana. Thought to have been extinct since about 1940, this largest American woodpecker was regarded as one of conservation’s great losses, like the Carolina Parakeet or the Passenger Pigeon.  Interest was revived after the publication of a 2005 paper in Science by Fitzpatrick et al., based on photographs and calls, suggesting that individuals of species still remained. But attempts to replicate those sightings failed, and disappointed birders were more convinced that the Ivorybill was indeed gone.

But now we have the Latta et al. report of living Ivorybills, and I find it a bit more convincing than the Science paper of 2005. The more recent report was based on a decade’s worth of drone and trail-camera footage with suggestive images showing the unique field marks of this bird, including its large size, its unique “manspreading” and laid-back stance on trees, and its white saddle and black-and-white wing markings. See my earlier post for the data that convinced me that there’s a decent chance this bird is still alive, though its restricted habitat would surely make it “endangered.”

The article below, from EcoWatch(click on screenshot) is of interest not because it gives new data, as it doesn’t (it’s a news report), but because it includes some newly released videos  taken in Louisiana in 2006 and 2008—between the two periods of research that led to the paper) that show more suggestive evidence of living ivorybills, including size, stance, its method of flying (sometimes folding up the wings), and white coloration.

Watch the YouTube video below and come to your own conclusions. (I’m sure birders will be more skeptical than I, and that’s great.)

The supplementary page cited on the YouTube page, which has additional video, shows that work was done largely by one Michael D. Collins, not an author of either paper. What we have, then, is one man giving his observations and measurements, and concluding that he’s seen Ivorybills rather than the smaller relative the Pileated Woopecker.  But the work was not trivial!

Now the will to believe is strong, and people want to think that the Ivorybill is still alive. But after watching the 24-minute video below, I have to say that my priors that the Ivorybill still exists have increased a bit.

Still, nobody is going to accept that this species is still alive until we get much better videos and  photos.  But have a look! Collins actually gives better location data than either paper cited above, which will of course entice the area to be flooded with birders. That may not be good, which is why those other papers did not divulge the exact location of their observations.

Another sad anniversary

September 7, 2014 • 3:27 pm

78 years ago today, the last thylacine, or “Tasmanian tiger”, died in a zoo. It was a carnivorous marsupial (one of only two marsupial species in which both sexes had pouches), and you can read all about it at The Thylacine Museum. There’s also some photos and information on Wikipedia, including this:

The thylacine had become extremely rare or extinct on the Australian mainland before British settlement of the continent, but it survived on the island of Tasmania along with several other endemic species, including theTasmanian devil. Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction, but other contributing factors may have been disease, the introduction of dogs, and human encroachment into its habitat. Despite its official classification as extinct, sightings are still reported, though none have been conclusively proven.

Surviving evidence suggests that it was a relatively shy, nocturnal creature with the general appearance of a medium-to-large-size dog, except for its stiff tail and abdominal pouch (which was reminiscent of a kangaroo) and a series of dark transverse stripes that radiated from the top of its back (making it look a bit like a tiger).

His (or her, as we’re unsure of the sex) name was Benjamin, and, remarkably, there’s a bit of video to show us what the species looked like.

A bit about Benjamin from The Tylacine Museum:

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 9.04.38 AM

Some sightings of thylacines are still reported (but unconfirmed), and there’s a $250,000 reward for good evidence that the species still exists. I strongly doubt it, so let us mourn the loss of Benjamin as we mourned the loss of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, who died on Sept. 1, 1914.

h/t:  Ross Barnett via Matthew Cobb