"Against all odds, the critically endangered ivory-billed woodpecker may still be hanging on in a desolate handful of bottomland swamps in the American Southeast" (Dorminey_2011, 1). The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is an endangered, possibly extinct species with an uncertain status. It was thought to be extinct until just recently, when it may have peered its head into the cameras once again. Footage and recordings have been gathered that may have shown that at least one Ivory Billed Woodpecker is still out there. These gatherings cannot be said to be inaccurate or accurate, but one thing is for sure, the search for this missing bird is on. Some scientists just cannot bring themselves to believe that this bird is still around, others cling to the hope it is. But no matter what their views are, scientists stand in agreement that if this bird is found they will use everything in their power to save this species. In the following report I hope to inform and update you on the status of this Woodpecker. I will cover everything from the woodpecker's physical traits to its survival status. Join me in this memorial or celebration of the Ivory Billed Woodpecher!
Campephilus principalis is the scientific name for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. It is classified in the kingdom of Animalia and the phylum of Chordata. Its class is Aves and it belongs to the family of Picidea. The genus of the Ivory Bill is Campephilus with the species Campephilus principalis. Campephilus meaning a genus of Picidae. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker's closest relative is the Imperial Woodpecker. It shows much resemblance to the beloved Ivory Bill, however the Cuban Ivory Bill is closest related to the Imperial. Recent studies show that all three birds appeared in the Mid-Pleistocene period (Anonymous_2012, 1). The evolution of the woodpecker is a topic of debate because of the unique features of its tongue, however its primary ancestor is thought to be the Antillean Piculet. Antillean Piculet is still around today and it can be found on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. A fossilized feather found in amber shows that it was once found in the Dominican Republic, but it has been isolated on the island of Hispaniola for around 25 million years.
The Ivory Billed Woodpecker was found, in its thriving years, in the Southern U.S. and parts of Cuba. It could once be found in parts of Texas to South Carolina, and southern Illinois to Florida. However, "The Ivory Billed Woodpecker has suffered from destruction over the whole of its range" leaving it homeless and exposed (Lammertink et. al. 1995, 1). Today, less then 20% of Mississippi's historical forests remain, due to many contributing factors that include forest demolition for construction and extreme weather (Dorminey_2011, 4).
This woodpecker preferred dense thriving pine forests (or woods) with lush vegetation and an abundance decaying trees. They also were attracted to swamps. The woodpeckers relied on decaying trees because they often were the home of many delicious insects that would not be found in trees that are alive and thriving. This provided many immense trees for the birds to dwell in along with a plentiful supply of food for them to feast on, including insects and sap found within the trees. They also ate various berries, nuts, seeds, and other fruits depending on the season. The forests also supplied the woodpeckers with their way of communication, "drumming or "tapping," which is a popular identifier for woodpeckers.
The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is now known for its possible sightings after it was implied extinct, but it was once known for its large size and distinctive color pattern. "Its a huge, black woodpecker, basically, with lighting bolts of white down the back and a huge patch of white on the wings" (Schorn_2009, 1). The Ivory Billed Woodpecker's length is around 20 inches with 30 inches for its wingspan, making it one of the largest woodpeckers of the world. It can weigh as much as 1.5 pounds, while smaller individuals weighing no less then about .9 pounds (Anonymous_2012, 2).
The Bird's bill is the color of ivory, thus its name, and it is very powerful and rather durable. The bill is elongated, which is a prominent characteristic in woodpeckers. Unlike most woodpeckers, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker has a bill that is flattened laterally, meaning wider from side to side than tall. Ivory Bills have a variety of white and sleek black markings down their back and wings, however their wings are mostly white in color. The white color extends just under the wing, creating somewhat of a black strip near the bird's armpit. They also have a very distinctive crest. A crest is head plumage exhibited by birds. The Ivory Bill males have a crest that is edged in black and fades to a brilliant red, while the females and juveniles have a less extravagant crest that is primarily black (Anonymous_2010, 3).
Woodpeckers, in general, have a physical adaption that is not common in other birds. This adaption is their exquisite bills that are made of bone to prevent fractures or cracks while the birds are pecking. As mentioned earlier, these beaks are large in size and length. This allows the birds to make a rhythmic drumming or "double knock" sound as their beaks tap the bark of the pine trees (Bruce_2005, 2). Unlike the popular belief, this action taken is not always to achieve food, it is to communicate with fellow woodpeckers and "announce territories". This adaption gives the birds an edge, instead of the gentle tweeting expressed by most species of birds; predators do not easily recognize the communication of the woodpecker.
Woodpeckers also have a very interesting adaption of the tongue. The woodpecker tongue wraps around their skulls to prevent their skull from rattling while they persistently peck at the bark of trees (Prentice_2009, 1). Another adaption of the woodpeckers is their tongues hard tip. The 'hard tip' is an extension of the hyoid bone; it helps to spear the insects. Other woodpecker species have tongues that are barbed or are sticky to further assist with capturing the insects.
The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is, at best, a critically endangered species. An endangered species is a species that is at risk of becoming extinct because of its dwindling numbers or it is threatened by rapidly changing environmental conditions. The Ivory Bill was previously thought to be extinct, however when possible documentation of the bird arose, the status became uncertain. If the birds were officially located, the immediate action would likely be to secure a structure to protect their nests from rat snakes and to provide an increasing amount of deadwood, while preserving "older forest habitat in the region". It is now thought to probably be extinct, with the exception of scientists who are very hopeful in the existence of the bird. "We're not very optimistic about the bird at this point...We've stopped systematic searches, but we still think small numbers, a dozen or less, may still be in some surprising corner" (Dorminey_2011, 5).
The majority of research done on the Ivory Billed Woodpecker involves the video that can be seen above. In the video note the man kayaking, behind him a faint image of a large bird fluttering by is seen. That large bird is thought to be an Ivory Bill. This footage created a spark that later fueled a fire, a fire to find this bird. " I have long believed that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers could have survived into the late 20th and early 21st centuries and was thus ecstatic to receive a call... informing me that evidence of at least one Ivory-billed Woodpecker had been found" (Jackson_2006, 3). Based on this footage, scientists have recreated this event to examine the possibility that this bird is possibly an Ivory Bill.
Analysis of the video above shows that the wing beat of the recorded bird is 8.6 beats per second, the average wing beat of Imperial Woodpecker ranges from 7.7 to 8.3. The Imperial Woodpecker and the Ivory Bill are close in size, both around 20 inches in length and both larger than a Pileated. This information is important because the Pileated Woodpecker, a much smaller woodpecker, averages 3.9 to 6.7 wing beats per second. Some scientists have dismissed this film because they say that since the average wing beat of the Ivory Bill is not known and it is known that woodpeckers' wing beat rates decrease with body mass, this cannot be an Ivory Bill. If the Imperial's wing beat is faster than the Pileated, we cannot rule out the possibility that this is an Ivory bill. Footage from the film of the confirmed Ivory Bill shot in 1935 also supports that the bird in this film may have been an Ivory Bill. It supports this by showing that the Ivory Bill in this footage has a wing beat rate of 8.4 beats per second (Luneau_2011, 1).
In effort to examine the possibility that the bird in the film above is, in fact, an Ivory Billed Woodpecker, scientists compared the bird in the clip above to archived photos of the Ivory Bill. They then re-enacted the scene above at the same site the video was taken using accurate models of both the Ivory Bill and the Pileated Woodpecker. Conditions were overcast, just as the original video. In the re-enactment a canon GL-2 was used, the same camera model used to take the footage above, the "distance to subject" was also the same. The models of both birds also allowed operators to flap their wings, this gave the effect of a flying bird. All of the re-enactment was preformed on March 15th 2005. "... we constructed, painted and mounted on long poles lifelike wooden models of ivory-billed and Pileated woodpeckers with outstretched wings... models were held at different angles to reveal both upper and lower wings". Results were inconclusive, however the "under wing" of the Ivory Bill was shown on footage as solid white, while the Pileated always maintains an "under wing" that has a black edge (Bruce_2005, 1). The footage above shows a bird with an under wing that is white. Even though we cannot confirm that this is an Ivory Bill, this information is valued. This research further proved that the existence of Ivory Billed Woodpeckers today is not such a far-fetched idea. However other studies have come to very different conclusions, "..frames from the Arkansas video that were used to identify the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker are shown to be equally, or more, compatible with the Pileated Woodpecker" (Collinson_2007, 2).
Since both studies were published the documentary, Ghost Bird, was filmed. Ghost Bird is an 85-minute documentary. It is about the possibility of the Ivory Billed Woodpeckers existence, the excitement of this possibility, and the search for the "Ghost Bird" (Jackson2_2010, 1). In the film many are interviewed by Crocker, the man who began the film, all having their own positive or negative views on the status of the Ivory Bill. Overall Crocker's film has one major point, "Science can prove that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker still flies. It cannot prove that it does not."
I chose to write my research report on the Ivory Billed Woodpecker because in an odd way it seemed familiar to me. When I saw images of the bird, I felt like I had seen it before, then when I researched it and found it was probably extinct I wondered how it could have been so familiar to me. I learned that it was once native to the Louisiana area, parts of Mississippi, and near Arkansas. Since I was little, I've spent most of my summers in that area, and I've even visited a handful of swamps. I can dimly remember signs and posters with the Ivory Billed Woodpecker's image plastered on them, most definitely to inform bird watchers and tourists to keep an eye out for the stunning bird. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker reminded me of my second home, Louisiana, and that is why I was drawn to it. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is a symbol of hope, a constant reminder of the devastation of extinction, and even a tourist attraction. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker means so much to so many, and to me it is a reminder of home.
The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is a bird with an uncertain status. Science has not proven that the Ivory Bill is extinct, and science has not proven that the Ivory Bill is still in the woods of Arkansas, soaring just over the heads of its paparazzi. In the report above I have informed and updated you on the status of this woodpecker. I covered everything from the Ivory Bill's appearance to its scientific name. Even if the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is extinct, it will not be a complete loss. The Ivory Bill has gathered people from different parts and of different races together in hope to find the slightest evidence of it. On the other hand, the bird that seems to vanish could still be out there, cleverly concealing itself in the deep swamp. The truth is out there; we just have to find it.