Back from the dead? Elusive ivory-billed woodpecker not extinct, researchers say | The threatened species

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In terms of elusiveness, it’s the Bigfoot or Loch Ness monster of the bird world, so rare and undetectable that the US government declared it extinct last year. But the ivory-billed woodpecker is, in fact, still alive and pecking in the forests of Louisiana, according to a team of researchers.

A series of grainy images and sightings of the bird, which had its last widely accepted sighting in 1944, show the scrupulously stealthy woodpecker still hanging out in swamp forests across the southern United States, according to new research from the team, which are yet to be peer-reviewed.

A three-year quest to find the woodpecker involved scientists traversing an undisclosed part of the Louisiana forest to observe the bird and take audio recordings. Unmanned trail cameras, set up to take time-lapse photos, and a drone were used to capture photos of the creature.

Steve Latta, conservation director at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh who led the effort, said each member of the team had encountered the ivory-billed woodpecker and often heard its call, which was described as hearing a child blowing into a tin can. trumpet.

Latta himself saw the bird fly upwards in front of him, showing the distinctive white edges of its wings. “It flew at an angle and I watched it for about six to eight seconds, which was quite long for an ivory-billed woodpecker,” he said. “I was surprised. I was visibly shaking afterwards. You realize that you saw something special that very few people have had the opportunity to see.

The size and markings of the bird captured in the photos are strong evidence that it is not another woodpecker, such as a pileated woodpecker or a red-headed woodpecker, Latta said. “It confirmed to me that, yes, this bird exists and gave me a sense of responsibility to protect it for the future,” he said.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers were once relatively common, ranging from the Carolinas in the southeastern United States to Texas. They were, or are, the largest woodpeckers in the United States, with the males sporting a distinctive red crest on their heads. They like to feast on insects that accumulate in the bark of recently dead trees.

Their numbers began to drop sharply in the 19th century due to human interference with their habitat and overhunting, their rarity prompting collectors to hunt them further as valuable specimens. They were also eaten by the poor of the day who turned to devouring woodpeckers, wild turkeys, gopher tortoises and other wild animals.

With only a few of the birds occupying largely inaccessible forests, confirmed sightings, let alone clear images, have become nearly impossible. Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), after years of classifying the woodpecker as critically endangered, declared the species extinct.

“No one has held a camera and taken a picture of one for years because it’s a rare bird in a difficult swamp habitat and they don’t want people close to them because they been shot at for 150 years,” said Geoffrey Hill, an Auburn University biologist who took part in another, largely frustrating, trip to find the bird in Florida in 2005.

“They have better eyes than us, they are high in the trees and actively run away from people. They’re not big thinkers, but they’ve developed a fairly simple strategy for avoiding people.

Hill said Latta’s research was “very interesting” and he thought it was likely the bird pictured was indeed an ivory-billed woodpecker. He added that the FWS was premature to decide that the species was extinct and that several dozen could still survive in the southern forests.

“Some people can’t believe that a bird can defy the documentation of modern humans because we have such dominance over nature, but it’s infinitely interesting because if it did, it’s a pretty impressive bird,” Hill said.

“People who love birds are fascinated by them. Ivory Notes don’t care, though. They hate everyone.

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