Global Courant 2023-05-19 05:18:17
New images suggest ivory-billed woodpeckers, believed to be extinct after going unseen for nearly eight decades, may still be surviving in unknown numbers. Videos and photos from a Louisiana forest were published Thursday showing grainy images of birds resembling the elusive woodpeckers. Geoffrey Hill, an ornithologist at Auburn University, seems to believe in the authenticity of the footage, saying those who doubt it “will not change their mind” unless they “get a dead bird in the face or put it in a see IMAX movie.”
New videos and photos claiming to show ivory-billed woodpeckers flying in a Louisiana forest were released Thursday by researchers as state officials said they will make a final decision this year on whether the birds are extinct.
The images — grainy and taken from a distance by drones and trail cameras — offer tantalizing hints that the great woodpecker still exists in Louisiana nearly 80 years after the last agreed sightings.
Several experts said it adds to earlier indications of their survival. They called on the government to drop the pending proposal to write off the so-called Lord God Bird – a nickname derived from the exclamation made by some viewers at the sight of a bird.
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But others dismissed the new research as inconclusive, including one scientist who said some images clearly depict another type of woodpecker that many amateurs mistake for the ivory-billed.
The peer-reviewed research in the journal Ecology and Evolution comes from a group that spent more than a decade searching for the woodpeckers in a secret location.
It includes drone video from as recent as October that shows a pair of birds with black and white coloring on the wings that researchers say helps distinguish them as ivory-billed woodpeckers.
“The last time a pair of birds was photographed would have been in the 1930s, so it’s really extraordinary on that level,” said Mark Michaels of Project Principalis, which sponsored the work and said it was shared with federal conservationists.
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The researchers also collected audio recordings of the woodpeckers, and most of the search team had a sort of direct encounter by seeing or hearing them, Michaels and lead study author Steven Latta said with the independent National Aviary in Pittsburgh.
Video footage claims to show the ivory-billed woodpecker, believed to be extinct, living in the wild. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)
An ivory-billed woodpecker seems hard to miss with a wingspan of 30 inches and a call reminiscent of a bulb bicycle horn. However, the bird’s preferred habitat is dense forests that can be difficult for humans to navigate. Many of those areas were cleared in the early 1900s, and the most recent agreed sighting was in 1944.
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Several sightings have been reported in recent decades. None fully resolved the doubt, and federal officials said in 2021 that there was “no objective evidence” of the bird’s survival.
After Project Principalis released the first results of its work last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service postponed the upcoming extinction declaration to allow for more public comment.
Federal officials want photos or videos that all experts can agree on. Wildlife Service spokeswoman Christine Schuldheisz said the agency “would receive information on any species at any time.”
One of the study’s co-authors works with the Wildlife Service. A disclaimer said the research does not necessarily represent the agency’s opinion.
Millions of dollars have been spent on previous search efforts.
John Fitzpatrick, a Cornell University professor who was involved in a yearlong search launched in Arkansas 20 years ago, said the latest videos and photos, when added to previous sightings, are reason enough to drop the extinction proposal.
“The region they work in is very likely to be able to support ivory beaks,” he said.
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Michael Collins, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory, said the videos show the similar but smaller pileated woodpecker, not the ivory-billed woodpecker. Collins has published numerous articles on ivory-billed woodpeckers and claims to have seen them himself over the past decade in the Pearl River area along the Louisiana-Mississippi border.
In the new drone video showing a pair of birds, Collins said glare from the sun catches on their wings, making them look white.
“All flight characteristics are consistent with pileated woodpeckers, but not ivory-billed woodpeckers,” Collins said. “This video shows a piled up woodpecker.”
Another ivory-billed expert, Geoffrey Hill of Auburn University, said Thursday’s study provides “convincing evidence” that ivory-billed woodpeckers persist. But Hill acknowledged that the debate was unlikely to be settled.
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“People have made up their mind. Unless they get hit in the face with a dead bird or see it in an IMAX movie, they’re not going to change their mind,” he said.