Ivory Bill Announcement

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on September 27th, 2006

Loren mentioned this story here on Cryptomundo yesterday in his post The Search for Giant Woodpeckers.

Today comes word of a huge pending announcement regarding the Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers purported to have been found in Florida.

Published in the Smokey Mountain News today is the following news.

The story’s been floating around in the blogosphere for a month or so and is now making it’s way to birding listservs. Rumor has it that there will be an ivory-billed announcement at the Oct. 3-7 meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union in Veracruz, Mexico.

Ivory Bill Study Site

A tree cavity in the swamp forests along the Choctawhatchee River

According to the rumor mill, Auburn University graduate student(s?) have found one or more — up to 9 — pairs of ivory-billed woodpeckers along the Choctawhatchee River in Florida’s panhandle. And, of course, the sightings occurred perhaps a year or so ago but have been kept under wraps to aid in land acquisition projects — anyone get a sense of déja vu reading that?

And in the realm of coincidences, the sighting(s?) occurred on public lands adjacent a highly environmentally questionable mega development — a proposed airport. Of course, no one would think of filing suit to stop such a project on behalf of a yet-to-be, irrefutably substantiated endangered species, like, say an ivory-billed woodpecker. Oh, wait — that has been done.

Will the University make an announcement at this upcoming Ornithologists’ meeting?

Photo credit to the Avian Conservation and Ecology website.

Read the Auburn University findings titled Evidence Suggesting that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (Campephilus principalis) Exist in Florida on the Avian Conservation and Ecology website.

The abstract from that paper states the following:

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) disappeared from the forests of southeastern North America in the early 20th Century and for more than 50 years has been widely considered extinct. On 21 May 2005, we detected a bird that we identified as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the mature swamp forest along the Choctawhatchee River in the panhandle of Florida. During a subsequent year of research, members of our small search team observed birds that we identified as Ivory-billed Woodpeckers on 14 occasions. We heard sounds that matched descriptions of Ivory-billed Woodpecker acoustic signals on 41 occasions. We recorded 99 putative double knocks and 210 putative kent calls. We located cavities in the size range reported for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and larger than those of Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) that have been reported in the literature or that we measured in Alabama. We documented unique foraging signs consistent with the feeding behavior of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. Our evidence suggests that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers may be present in the forests along the Choctawhatchee River and warrants an expanded search of this bottomland forest habitat.

From the introduction of the paper:

On 21 May 2005, GEH, TLH, and BWR detected a bird that appeared to be an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in a mature swamp forest along the Choctawhatchee River north of the town of Bruce in the Florida panhandle. The Choctawhatchee River and its major tributaries flow through more than 20 000 ha of mature, seasonally flooded forest. Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) was selectively cut from this watershed in the early 20th century, but extensive stands of oak (Quercus spp.), other hardwoods, and scattered huge baldcypress remained uncut. From December 2005 to May 2006 we searched for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in an approximately 500-ha plot of forest surrounding the location of our initial detection. Two of us (BWR and KAS) camped in the area throughout this period, and the other researchers visited periodically. We moved through the area daily in kayaks and by foot, looking and listening for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. We carried small video cameras to record images and sounds. In addition, we used seven automated listening stations to make 24-h digital sound recordings throughout our study area.

And from the results of the paper:

On 14 occasions, we sighted birds well enough to observe the diagnostic shape, plumage pattern, or flight behavior characteristics of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (Appendix 1: table S1). On two of these occasions, we observed two birds together. In each of these encounters, observers who had abundant experience with Pileated Woodpeckers and other southern swamp birds identified field marks that were characteristic of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, such as white trailing edges on black wings, non-undulating loon-like flight with stiff wingbeats, and white lines running from the neck down the back (see Appendix 1: table S1).

Members of our research team heard sounds matching the distinctive double knock and kent call of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, including several bouts of repeated double knocks or kent calls, 41 times between May 2005 and April 2006 (Appendix 1: table S2). Seven of 12 visitors to the study site between May 2005 and April 2006 heard sounds consistent with Ivory-billed Woodpecker kent calls or double knocks. We recorded nine putative double knocks and five putative kent calls with hand-held video cameras, including consecutive double knocks that appeared to be given by two different birds.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

22 Responses to “Ivory Bill Announcement”

  1. brineblank responds:

    Great news if it is true. I’m not sure why there would be such a delay (esp. a year) when there is the possibility of habit being completely destroyed or altered to make it unsuitable for the bird.

  2. OKCurious responds:

    I would hope that there would be a given opportunity to investigate the area before expanding the development. I am a big believer in the idea that we need to find a balance between our need for space and resources and our responsibility as custodians of the wonderful nature we see around us.

  3. planettom responds:

    Very interesting, and I must say I am impressed with the Auburn University paper. Very detailed article. I’ll have to give it a thorough read.

  4. YourPTR! responds:

    Fantastic and exciting news to hear the Ivory Billed Woodpecker may exist in another location outside of Arkansas! I am sure the last thing America, (with its 1000s of airports), needs is yet another airport so if this latest news stops this blatant attempt at environmental rape then that would be the icing on the cake! Now all we need is for the Imperial Woodpecker to be rediscovered. 🙂

  5. Porkchop responds:

    brineblank: The reason for the delay is most likely to gather more evidence and to be certain, as was the case in the Arkansas sightings, which I still believe to be true, despite recent dissent. The Cornell Lab put forth some pretty convincing evidence, and I hope Auburn does the same.

    We took a kayak trip up and down the White River in the Big Woods (in hopes), but I don’t think I’ll be able to talk the wife into going THAT far…

  6. darkrabbit responds:

    “Show me the body.”

    Rhetorically speaking. How does this scientific “find” apply to science seeking BF?

  7. Alton Higgins responds:

    The recordings can be heard here.

  8. shumway10973 responds:

    Considering that there is definite proof out there that the airline industry is mostly to blame for our global warming and many of the recent cold/flu outbreaks, I think we could stand to downsize that industry at least one airport not yet built.

    I think it would be wonderful if true. I’m glad that they did take the time to get definite proof. Too many time environmentalists will cry wolf, out right lie, without actually getting out there and studying what is really going on. best example was the spotted owl. They said that it only nested in dead wood and was a loner, but in actuality it will nest where ever it can and when reporters were brought out to observe a lone owl went and brought back 3 or 4 to observe (and probably laugh at) the reporters. Usually these people just read books and never spend the time actually in the field. I have a great respect for the people mentioned above for expending so much effort and energy to make sure it is really real.

  9. LSU_Crypto responds:

    I am no birder, but I beleive that I have seen the ivory billed woodpecker on two occasions near my grandfather’s homestead in Bayou Blue, Louisiana. The first encounter was in the fall of 2002 while racoon hunting. The second was in the Fall of 2003 while looking for our rabbit dogs. The woodpeckers I saw were much larger than other woodpeckers I had seen up to that point. I looked at several books and determined that I had seen ivory billeds. I tried to convince a professor at LSU to come down to the old home place and walk take a look. I described the birds I saw, and he said what I saw sounds like the ivory billed, but could not have been because they were extinct.

  10. MojoHotep responds:

    Wouldn’t it be a bit funny, if there were Ivory Bills out there that had adapted to variations in habitat and showed up in some very unexpected and possibly semi populated areas? Right under the nose’s of the experts that said they were extinct.

    LSU_Crypto, there were alot of reports of Ivory Bills for many years in the deep south and at least an equal number of rebuttals by the “experts” for as many years. I think, sometimes, that some experts have fragile egos and sometimes not as many hours in the field as your average coon hunter or duck hunter or good ole country boy. When a southerner grows up in the “woods” or “swamp” for 20 or so years, it is hard for an expert to log as many hours in the field and still get the degree. But they have the degree and they feel it is worth more than the country boys twenty years of livin’ in the “swamp”. But in the end, who has seen more wildlife in person, up close and personal. That is a no brainer and an ego buster for the experts. I was a country boy that got to experience this conundrum while going for the expert degree.
    I too have seen two different ivory bills and one of them was not where one would expect to see an ivory bill and he was 30 feet away, no mistake. This one wasn’t a rain crow (old time southern speak for pileated woodpecker).

    Remember, they have falcons nesting on the skyscrapers in some of the larger cities. Critters do adapt.

    Now you can put me under the nutcase file heading (grin).

  11. sschaper responds:

    They are grad students, they want to have a future. They aren’t going to release the info without solid proof, lest they have to flip burgers the rest of their lives.

  12. darkrabbit responds:

    Respectfully, Mr. Higgins, hearing is not believing. Just as photographic “evidence” as posited by some persons is not worth believing when judging the context in which the photo was taken.

  13. LSU_Crypto responds:

    I saw these birds in thick cypress wetland with some oak mixed in on the ridges. I was walking on one of the ridges looking for a treed coon. The ivory billed was perched on the side of a tree. The movement caught my eye. I watched the bird for about five minutes until the bay of my hound scared it off.

    The second time I saw it I was actually walking in the marsh. I was looking for my beagle and my yelling flushed the bird out. I was very close when I jumped it and the beating of its wings startled me. For a second I thought it was a wood cock, and I put a bead on it. Thank God I realized what it was before I shot. Louisiana boys don’t miss often.

  14. Alton Higgins responds:

    mr. darkrabbit,

    I intended no implications of endorsement or insinuations of acceptance of the validity of the Auburn recordings; I merely thought readers would be interested in hearing the sounds mentioned in the Hill et al. 2006 paper, since they are not directly available as links.

    However, I will say that I find the putative kent call recordings intriguing. The fact that the frequencies and such of the calls heard and documented in Florida compared favorably with historic Ivory-billed Woodpecker recordings is less compelling to me personally than the impact or effect of the recorded sounds to my ears. I’ve conducted hundreds of bird censuses and collected many birds, and generally spent lots of time watching birds. I was fortunate to be able to spend a great deal of time over the course of several years with some of the most skilled birders in the country. We identified more birds by sound than by sight. The possible kent calls do not remind me of species with which I am familiar.

    I don’t think your analogy with questionable photographs, if you are referencing blobsquatches or pictures of supposed cryptids, is germane. The Auburn team presented their rationale for excluding possible “kent” sources, such as Blue Jays and nuthatches. The correlation of the sounds in time and space with allied forms of evidence and sightings by expert birders (who do NOT casually claim to see any rare species) leads me to accept the probability that the species still exists.

  15. crgintx responds:

    If these researchers know where these birds are nesting wouldn’t it be simplier to go to these nests and recover moulted feathers and gauno for DNA testing? With DNA proof that they then could present it in civil court to establish a refuge.

  16. darkrabbit responds:

    Mr. Higgins:

    I am with you 100%, no joke. Far from it for me to understand the audio taken. I trust you and this study’s personnel to know how to read the sounds. I really think that it is simply a neat find. But how do explain to the crass know-it-alls who sound like me but unlike me, actually are that way?

    An avid bird watcher I know well swears she has seen an ivory-billed on her getaway farm. I ain’t gonna call her a liar or blind or hallucinating.

    My point was simply to understand the method of evaluating such evidence, specifically audio, and how such evidence can be accepted or refuted, and what a skeptic can do to it. Your explanation satisfies me, but will it satisfy others? It’s evidence, but can it prove existence?

    Darn same ole question.

    It’s probably compelling moreso than BF audio, because we’re simply talking a “bird” and not talking BF. But, why hold a different standard for BF than an ivory-billed woodpecker?

    I don’t have any real answer. I was just trying my best to ask a question in a thought-provoking way.

    Thank you for your generous response, and I truly hope you or someone will get a snapshot of this bird very soon.

    It will only help to keep minds open to the somewhat improbable in nature.

    Best Regards,


  17. Alton Higgins responds:


    As I understand their position, the Auburn team is not claiming that the recordings constitute proof of existence.

    Sighting reports, intriguing but ultimately inconclusive photos and video, otherwise unidentifiable sound recordings, and varioius forms of indirect physical evidence provide more than sufficient basis, in my opinion, to justify funding for searches of mature bottomland forest habitat, in Florida and elsewhere, for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

    Of course, many of us might make the same arguments with regard to support for sasquatch research.

    The search of cavities for feathers and such, as suggested by crgintx, seems so obvious that I have to believe the Auburn team thought of it too. Perhaps some results of this avenue of research will be part of the upcoming announcements at the AOU meetings. That would be exciting.

  18. darkrabbit responds:

    Mr. Higgins:

    The announcement of the announcement made here is worth not a small amount of salivating. Imagine a definitive presentation of proof the Ivory-billed is out there.

    For me, proof, if not forthcoming, will not make or break the case for the IBW’s existence.

    The evidence might do better.

    Strange, that without concrete proof, we still hold theories in physics to be binding as if they were proof.

    The evidence surpasses the proof when no proof can be obtained to counter the theory simply because the nature of the universe might hold near infinity explanations in diminishing probabilities.

    It is ok by me, but probably not to many, to sell a high probability of a creature’s existence based on evidence rather than based on proof.

    The evidence sells me. And the IBW evidence sells me too. No proof, but sometimes one does not need proof to make a positive determination.

    Best regards,


  19. joppa responds:

    I am new to cryptomundo, but have been reading these posts for the past six months. I was a park ranger for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources back in the early 80’s. One of my best friends was stationed in the Okeefenokee swamp for about 3 years. We made many canoe trips into “off limit” areas of the swamp. I am convinced that on at least 2 occasions we saw Ivory Bills. We reported these to the USF&W service and were told to keep it quiet. It has been a well kept secret that several pairs of Ivory bills were in the swamp, and along the Sewanee river basin heading into Florida. The other discoveries don’t suprise me. Now about that skunk ape….

  20. Alton Higgins responds:


    I’ve heard similar stories and rumors for the last twenty years or so. Sightings by people who didn’t just fall off a turnip truck, sightings kept on the QT.

    As the saying goes, “Where there’s smoke …”

  21. planettom responds:

    Well, it’s now Oct 6th, and I haven’t seen an update yet. I did however find in the program directory of the IV North American Ornithological Conference – Wings Without Borders, the conference mentioned in this post, that this lecture was scheduled for Wednesday: Hill, III, J. R.; Rohrbaugh, R.; Luneau, M. D.; Lammertink, M.;

    I’d like to hear about their findings.

  22. Alton Higgins responds:

    Saw an article that came out yesterday describing another find by a team in Louisiana.

    The following was taken from the article.

    The biggest and most exciting bird news is that two reports of ivory-billed woodpeckers have surfaced this week. The first report we received was from Louisiana not far from the area so extensively searched in January 2004. From what scanty information we received on the sighting, it seemed four researchers sighted a bird in early May 2005 and have been studying and researching the area since that time trying to document their sighting.

    The second report was an announcement from a five-man team headed by Dr. Geoff Hill, ornithology professor at Auburn University in Florida. Two research assistants, Tyler Hicks and Brian Roleck, and Dr. Daniel J. Mennill, assistant professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario, and grad student Kyle Seiston also were on the team.

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