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Do videos show the ivory-billed woodpecker, or is it extinct?

On October 30, 2000, at the Louisiana State University Natural Science Museum in Baton Rouge, La., a pair of stuffed male and female ivory-billed woodpeckers are on display in a soil exhibit. The federal government has been asked to consider at least two videos made in recent years as evidence that ivory-billed woodpeckers may still exist. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in July 2022 it was looking for any videos or photos that all experts agreed showed the bird. Credit: Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP, File

The federal government has been asked to consider at least two videos taken in recent years as evidence that ivory-billed woodpeckers still exist.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in 2021 it planned to declare 23 species extinct, including North America’s largest woodpecker, also known as the Lord God bird after an exclamation sometimes made by viewers.

In July, the agency said it would add six months, including a month for public comment, before deciding whether to declare extinction for the black bird with black-and-white wings, a wingspan of 30 inches (76 centimeters) and a call that is reminiscent of a light bulb bicycle horn. What is needed, the announcement said, were videos or photos that all experts agreed showed the bird.

In July, two videos of black and white birds were submitted, along with excerpts and extended video presentations explaining why the contributors believe they are showing ivory bills.

But the debate – so bitter that it prompted the publication of last year a book about dozens of “misconceptions” on both sides – seems as heated as ever. A University of Kansas ornithologist called the videos laughable.

One is drone footage from a distance, showing a bird that flies in front of trees and lands in one on February 23, 2021.

“The landing sequence… almost made me scream, ‘Ivory-bill!'” Mark Michaels, founder of Project Principalis, a group created to search for live ivory-billed woodpeckers, told Fish and Wildlife officials in a video presentation made in July. 22 and Tuesday posted in the public comment section of the proposal.

Do videos show the ivory-billed woodpecker, or is it extinct?

An example of an ivory-billed woodpecker is on display at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, September 24, 2021. The federal government has been asked to consider at least two videos shot in recent years as evidence that ivory-billed woodpeckers may still exist . The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in July 2022 it was looking for any videos or photos that all experts agreed showed the bird. Credit: AP Photo/Haven Daley, File

Mark B. Robbins, ornithology collection manager at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, said the video is so bad it’s impossible to see what’s flying. “It could be anything,” he wrote in an email.

The other is closer, taken from a canoe, and shows a bird crossing a part of a swamp and then fly away on October 17, 2020.

“Although my sighting lasted only 9.8 seconds, it was unmistakable,” said Bobby Harrison, a retired associate professor of photography at Oakwood University, in Huntsville, Alabama, and a self-proclaimed “independent ivory bill finder.”

He noted that the bird in his video flaps its wings much faster than the similar piled-up woodpecker, and that it flew about 150 meters in the short amount of time it took to watch it. That speed, which he estimated at 35 mph (55 km/h), and the color pattern identified it, Harrison said.

“It’s pretty clear that the bird they call an Ivory-billed is a Wood Duck,” Robbins wrote, adding that pausing a slow-motion video shows it has a white belly.

The frame in question likely shows a wing in front of the body, and the submitted video shows more detail than the compressed version available online, said Tim Gallagher, former editor-in-chief of “Living Bird” magazine at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and co- presenter of the video. As a birdwatcher and bird photographer with 30 years of experience, Harrison knows what wood ducks look like, he said.

Gallagher and Harrison’s presentation to the agency, made July 18, was posted on Monday, the closing day for the public comment period.

Do videos show the ivory-billed woodpecker, or is it extinct?

Moe Flannery, senior collection manager for ornithology and mammal science at the California Academy of Sciences, holds an ivory-billed woodpecker, one of the species in their specimen collection, in San Francisco on Sept. 24, 2021. The federal government has been asked to consider at least two videos taken in recent years as evidence that ivory-billed woodpeckers still exist. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in July 2022 it was looking for any videos or photos that all experts agreed showed the bird. Credit: AP Photo/Haven Daley, File

The last widely accepted sighting of an ivory beak was in Northeastern Louisiana in 1944.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which has filed numerous lawsuits seeking federal protections for animals and plants or to increase the protection of people on endangered or threatened lists, supported a declaration of extinction in a July 16 letter.

“We urge the Agency to follow the best available science to its proper conclusion, finalize the proposed rule to remove the woodpecker on the basis of extinction, and redouble its efforts so that no other species goes extinct and the fate of the ivory-billed woodpecker,” wrote government affairs director Brett Hartl.

The nonprofit conservation organization criticized a non-peer-reviewed paper claiming there is evidence the bird still lives in Louisiana, including the photos published as part of that evidence.

“To be blunt, there are better and more reliable photos of Sasquatch floating around the internet than these images of this alleged ivory-billed woodpecker,” Hartl wrote.

The Cherokee Nation was one of nearly 200 other groups and people to comment for three separate periods since September 30, 2021.

The bird “is anchored in our earliest pre-contact symbolism and their influence on our cultural activities continues to this day,” according to a letter signed by Chief Executive Chuck Hoskin Jr. on January 18.

“The Nation requests the Agency to continue conservation and research efforts to ensure the protection of all surviving individuals,” he wrote.


It may be extinct, but the story of the ivory-billed woodpecker isn’t over


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Quote: Do videos show the ivory-billed woodpecker, or is it extinct? (2022, August 12) retrieved on August 12, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-videos-ivory-billed-woodpecker-extinct.html

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