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Ivory-billed Woodpecker: Challenges & Opportunities

On September 25, 2006 a new set of credible sightings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was reported from the panhandle of Florida. Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama) ornithologist Dr. Geoff Hill led the team who observed the birds along the Choctawhatchee River, a floodplain forest filled with tall bottomland hardwood trees.

Like the series of sightings on the Cache River in spring 2005, these more recent sightings occurred in southeastern bottomland hardwood forest - rich habitat that is also home for Swallow-tailed Kites, Prothonotary Warblers, and other wildlife. Hope springs anew that a viable population of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers may be found and supported. If a viable population remains, we now have the opportunity to protect and expand the habitat upon which the Ivory-billed Woodpecker depends.

The discovery and recovery effort that took place a year ago in Arkansas is a tribute to the determination of an extended team of people who make up the Big Woods Coalition, led by The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It was prompted by the first set of repeated, credible sightings in 60 years; before April 28, 2005, most people thought that the species was extinct.

The Cache River and White River in Arkansas form an Important Bird Area and fall within a larger Audubon management plan on the Mississippi River for a suite of species including Swallow-tailed Kite, Bald Eagle, and Cerulean Warbler. Audubon has compiled a list of target species and habitats, and is working to protect and restore bottomland forests, wetlands, and coastal areas for these species in the ten states bordering the river from Minnesota to Louisiana. Audubon recognizes that we need long-term planning and multi-state regional cooperation if we are to protect Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, other species, and the habitats upon which they depend along the course of the Mississippi River and elsewhere.

The new sightings in Florida should reinvigorate efforts to find the bird in other portions of its historic range. But that effort presents a serious challenge to birdwatchers, and that comes from identifying the bird. In form, color, and size, the locally common Pileated Woodpecker appears superficially similar to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Audubon has received many calls from birdwatchers who think they have seen the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. We ask that you look at the accompanying pages that compare and describe these two species. If you remain convinced that you have seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker you will need to take photographs of the bird. Remember that in any conflict of interest between birds and birders, the welfare of the birds and their environment comes first: please follow the ABA's Code of Birding Ethics.

Helpful Links:
Woodpecker comparison page
Ivory-billed Woodpecker profile
Pileated Woodpecker profile
Audubon Press Release
Birding ethics

 

 

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