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National Aviary says new video appears to show ivory-billed woodpecker in flight

by Bill Bowden | August 12, 2022 at 7:12 a.m.
In this image taken from drone video recorded in 2021, a bird (center) identified as an ivory-billed woodpecker flies through a Louisiana forest. (Courtesy photo/Project Principalis)

New video evidence from Louisiana shows what appears to be an ivory-billed woodpecker in flight, according to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

Project Principalis, a partnership of independent researchers and the National Aviary, recently submitted the drone video on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. (The scientific name of the ivory-billed woodpecker is Campephilus principalis.)

Monday was the last day in a public comment period over whether the ivory-billed woodpecker should be removed from the endangered species list and declared extinct.

On July 22, Mark Michaels, co-founder of Project Principalis, shared the video with representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Molly Toth, a spokeswoman for the National Aviary. She said the video was shot in 2021.

Toth said the video was made available to the public for the first time on Thursday.

Besides the video, Michaels also submitted comments, a presentation and a paper titled "Multiple lines of evidence indicate survival of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Louisiana" to the Fish and Wildlife Service at https://bit.ly/3vWXSPe.

"This new video showing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker -- in flight, landing, and taking off -- is exciting and informative," said Michaels. "It not only builds on our existing body of evidence gathered over many years of searching, it tells us more about behavior, and is among the clearest evidence to date of the survival of these elusive birds."

Two of five sequential flights were included in the presentation, according to a news release.

An Alabama man has also presented video to the Fish and Wildlife Service that he says is of an ivory-billed woodpecker.

Bobby Harrison of Huntsville, Ala., won't say where he shot the Oct. 17, 2020, video, but he said he's seen ivory-billed woodpeckers nine times, and eight of those sightings were at Bayou DeView in the Big Woods of east Arkansas.

A flurry of ivory-billed woodpecker sightings occurred at Bayou DeView in 2004-05.

The ivory-billed was once -- and perhaps still is -- America's largest woodpecker. With its prominent beak and a wingspan of 30 inches, it was known as the "Lord God Bird" because people would exclaim "Lord God!" when it swooped down from the sky.

On Sept. 30, 2021, the Wildlife Service proposed removing the ivory-billed woodpecker, along with 22 other species, from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife due to extinction.

A two-month public comment period was held late last year regarding all 23 species.

Then, a public hearing on the ivory-billed woodpecker was held Jan. 26, followed by a one-month extension of the public comment period for that species.

On July 7, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reopened the comment period for another month and extended its final decision by six months.

"Since the publication of the proposed rule to delist the ivory-billed woodpecker, there has been substantial disagreement regarding the interpretation of the evidence that exists for the ivory-billed woodpecker," according to a rule the Wildlife Service published July 7 in the Federal Register. "This situation has led to a significant disagreement regarding whether the species is extinct." The Sept. 30 proposal was based on the best science available at the time, according to a news release from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Wildlife Service was looking, in particular, for clear video or photographic evidence of the camera-shy woodpecker -- photographic evidence that can be "repeatedly interpreted the same way by independent observers, such as definitive photographic evidence collected by a field observer," according to the published rule.

Many ornithologists say the woodpecker was last seen in the Big Woods of east Arkansas in 2004-05. But the last "commonly agreed upon" sighting was in Louisiana in 1944, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Although it had been considered extinct for 60 years -- from 1944 to 2004 -- the ivory-billed woodpecker has remained on the endangered species list since 1967.


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