Download a page on identification of Ivory-billed Woodpecker (pdf file) for your Sibley Guide to Birds
The claimed 2004 rediscovery in Arkansas
Since the last confirmed record of Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the US (1944 in Louisiana) there have been many claims of rediscovery. The most recent began with the public announcement in April 2005 that one bird had been seen and videotaped in Arkansas. The scientific publication presenting the evidence is:
Fitzpatrick, et al. 2005. Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America. Science. 3 June 2005. 308: 1460-1462.
The key piece of evidence in this claim is a brief and blurry video clip captured in April 2004 near Brinkley Arkansas, by David Luneau.
Along with many other birders and ornithologists, including Jerome Jackson, Rick Prum, Mark Robbins, and Kenn Kaufmann, I became skeptical soon after reading and reviewing the evidence. In March 2006, three colleagues and I published a response to the original claim. Our conclusion is that all of the features shown in the video are consistent with a normal (and common) Pileated Woodpecker and therefore there is no verifiable evidence to support the claim that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been rediscovered.
Sibley, David A., Louis R. Bevier, Michael A. Patten, Chris S. Elphick. 2006. Comment on “Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America”. Science. 17 March 2006: Vol. 311: p. 1555. Supporting Online Material
Fitzpatrick et al. responded by insisting that most of their original interpretation was correct, and that ours was flawed, without directly addressing our key points:
Fitzpatrick, J. W., et al. 2006. Response to Comment on “Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America”. Science. 17 March 2006: Vol. 311: p. 1556.
Louis Bevier has a detailed website addressing many of the questions surrounding these claims.
In 2007 Martin Collinson (website) independently analyzed the Arkansas video, comparing it to video of a known Pileated Woodpecker in Ohio, and concluded that “there are features of the video of the bird in Arkansas in 2004 that are inconsistent with Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and the video is equally, if not more, consistent with Pileated Woodpecker.”
Collinson JM. 2007. Video analysis of the escape flight of Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus: does the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis persist in continental North America? BMC Biology 5: 8.
A brief discussion of my analysis of the Arkansas video is here.
In 2007 I wrote two detailed articles on my blog discussing various aspects of the claimed rediscovery:
“After three years of fruitless search efforts, with several studies refuting the original claim and not a single independent study supporting it, it is grossly misleading to suggest that the evidence is “convincing” and it is irresponsible to place the hypothetical needs of this species ahead of the known needs of so many others.”
“The sound (even though it too was ambiguous …) helps cross a decision threshold – that Ivory-billed is likely, that the white really did seem to be on the trailing edge of the wings, and that the bird that just flew away must have been an Ivory-billed.”
To date (November 2009) there is still no verifiable evidence that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers survive in the US.
Findings are summarized in the 2010 Recovery Plan for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker