Ivory-billed Woodpecker found in Arkansas
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis, one of the largest and most spectacular of the world’s woodpeckers, has been rediscovered in North America. Both sexes are striking black-and-white birds, and males have flaming red crests.
The news, the subject of an announcement by the journal Science, has stunned ornithologists world-wide, as the species was widely assumed to have gone extinct in North America since the last confirmed sighting in 1944.
A series of sightings between February 2004 and April 2005, in the Big Woods forest of the Mississippi River basin, involved at least one bird, a male. One observer secured brief video footage which, despite technical imperfections, yielded at least five diagnostic features of Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
More may be present, since potential habitat for a thinly distributed source population is vast at over 220,000 hectares. The Big Woods is regenerating after systematic logging which contributed to the woodpecker’s disappearance. If breeding pairs do exist, most of the conditions believed to be required for successful breeding and population growth are becoming more available to them.
The species was once uncommon but widespread across lowland primary forest of the southeastern United States. No living Ivory-billed Woodpecker had been conclusively documented in continental North America since an unpaired female was seen in cut-over forest remnants in 1944.
"All of us who share this planet owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the individuals and organisations whose tireless efforts led to the rediscovery of this bird." —John Flicker, President, Audubon (BirdLife in the US)
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is one of six North American bird species known or suspected to have gone extinct since 1880. The others are Labrador Duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius), Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis), Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) and Bachman’s Warbler (Vermivora bachmanii).
"All of us who share this planet owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the individuals and organisations whose tireless efforts led to the rediscovery of this bird," said John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the USA). "Thanks to their dedication, we all have a second chance to save this magnificent woodpecker from extinction. As it inspires our hopes, this resilient Ivory-billed Woodpecker must also inspire our commitment to protect the habitat it needs for survival."
"This extraordinary rediscovery provides hope for the 18 species classified as Potentially Extinct, such as Jamaican Petrel, Javan Lapwing and Pink-headed Duck," said Dr Michael Rands, Director and Chief Executive of BirdLife International.
Dr Rands added, "These species are judged likely to be extinct, but confirmation is required and some hope for their survival remains. Listing as Extinct has significant conservation implications, because conservation funding is, justifiably, not targeted at species believed to be extinct. Conservationists are therefore reluctant to designate species as Extinct if there is any reasonable possibility that they may still be extant, in order to avoid the ‘Romeo error’, where we might give up on a species before it is too late."