Die-Hards Are Certain: The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Lives

But grainy photos and videos may not be enough to ward off a federal 'extinct' declaration
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 8, 2023 9:00 AM CDT
True Believers Are Certain: Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Lives
An ivory-billed woodpecker specimen is on a display at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

Is the ivory-billed woodpecker gone forever? A final decision from the US Fish and Wildlife Service is expected sometime this spring on whether to declare the bird extinct, reports Ryan Felton for the Wall Street Journal. His story, and another by lifelong birder Jim Williams at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, recounts the efforts of those who insist the bird nicknamed the "Lord God Bird" is still alive in remote parts of the Southeast. They have produced grainy photos and videos—you can see the latter at the Project Principalis website, which is devoted to documenting such evidence for the bird, whose scientific name is Campephilus principalis.

Skeptics include fellow birders who would love to be proved wrong but think it's a massive waste of government resources to continue to search for the bird. It would be better, they say, to use that money to protect species that are certain to exist but are on the brink. "A suggestive video is not good enough," John Dillon, past president of the Louisiana Ornithological Society, tells the Journal. Both stories note that the last undisputed sighting was registered in 1944. The large woodpecker—it stands nearly 2 feet tall—is native to the swamps and forests of the Southeast, from Louisiana to Florida and into the Carolinas. However, the logging industry decimated its territory.

"It's premature to declare it extinct," John Fitzpatrick, director emeritus of Cornell University's ornithology lab, argues. On his side is New York resident Mark Michaels, who organized drone flights in 2021 over an unnamed Louisiana woodland that produced the aforementioned video of a bird he says "is clearly a woodpecker and is inconsistent with anything but ivory-bill." The big question is whether federal officials will agree. One thing clear from the coverage: Even if the FWS declares the bird gone forever, die-hards will continue their search. (More woodpeckers stories.)

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