The ivory-billed woodpecker, called “the bird of the Lord God”, may not be extinct after all


The “Lord God Bird” may have risen from the dead.

Bird watchers say the ivory-billed woodpecker – given its divine nickname due to its large size – may still be out there in the remote hardwood forests of the southeastern United States, even though the latest confirmed sighting of the bird took place in 1944.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service offered to declare the bird extinct last year, but has now announced a six-month extension to receive more information after ornithologists, including Geoffrey Hill of Auburn University, said there is substantial evidence that the elusive “ghost bird” is still out there.

“Recognizing substantial disagreement among experts regarding the status of the species, the Service is extending the deadline to allow more time to review the information,” the Wildlife Service said in a news release last week announcing the extension. .

Hill, who became known for his work on the unusual colorations of birds like the Alabama yellow cardinal, said he and a group of students had collected “really strong evidence” that ivory-billed woodpeckers were still alive during surveys of the Choctawhatchee River Basin in Florida in 2005 and 2006.

Hill, and others who say they have seen the ivory-billed woodpecker in person, have yet to capture definitive photo or video evidence to prove the bird is still around.

“I thought we presented very strong evidence of a population in Florida,” Hill told this week. “But it wasn’t the IMAX movie everyone wanted to see, with really clear images of the bird.”

Hill said he and his Auburn students had captured images and sound recordings of the bird, but none were definitive enough to declare the species alive.

“We have many sound recordings of the birds,” Hill said. “And we have bad video of a bird that matches the ivory-billed woodpecker.

“I thought we had documented the bird pretty well, but a nice video or clear photo was missing.”

In 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service noted that “[w]Although suggestive evidence has been found in several states, no clear and conclusive photographs or video have been taken as of this writing.

This year, another team of ornithologists announced that they had captured trail camera footage and other evidence of the Ivory Beak’s continued existence in rural Louisiana.

The Louisiana team released their results in a newspaper pre-print in April, but their work has yet to be formally reviewed by other experts for publication, a key step in verifying their findings.

The ivory-billed woodpecker is the largest known woodpecker in the United States, with a wingspan of up to 31 inches. The bird is known for its striking black and white plumage, white beak, lemon yellow eye, and pointed crest. The male’s crest is bright red, while the female’s is black.

The bird was once common throughout the Southeast, including Alabama, but hunting and habitat loss drove the majestic woodpecker to near—or perhaps complete—extinction from the early 1960s. 1800.

“It was apparently a fairly common bird, until about the middle of the 19th century, until the end of the Civil War,” Hill said.

Hill said advances in technology allowed for greater logging in the southeastern swamps during this time, and many people hunted woodpeckers for food in the years after the Civil War.

“Post-civil war was a time of famine and many natural resources were consumed, so many species became rare or became locally extinct,” he said.

The last confirmed live ivory beak was documented in northern Louisiana in 1944.

The Fish and Wildlife Service species recovery plan says the bird depends on extensive contiguous forest land, foraging among the dead and decaying wood of felled trees for insects. These vast tracts of undisturbed forest land have become rarer.

Hill said while the sightings are indeed ivory beaks, researchers currently don’t have enough information to determine if the bird still clings to a few spots or if it could make a comeback.

“We have no idea if these last birds are dying out or if they’ve already hit rock bottom and are slowly coming back,” he said. “Or maybe they’re just kind of stuck in the stable state and very low population. There’s no data, so we don’t know.

Hill said there was no recent evidence of the ivorybill in Alabama, but areas of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta could be ideal habitat should the bird recover.

“If they recover, there’s plenty of habitat for them now,” he said. “The Apalachicola River system, the Choctawhatchee, the Conecuh River system, and the Mobile-Tensaw Delta are just huge wetland habitats for these birds.

“So if they’re able to reproduce and their populations aren’t so small that they’ve lost all their genetic diversity, they have plenty of room to come back.”


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