With bits of evidence, researchers are convinced Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are not extinct and will soon be found in the swamps of northern Florida. Bruce Burkart has the story. (Video: Assignment Earth)


Now you see them. Now you don’t. Well, that’s the dilemma facing these researchers from Auburn University who are looking for ivory-billed woodpeckers in a Florida swap. They’ve gathered plenty of evidence that this reclusive bird, long thought extinct, still exists, but they have yet to get a clear picture of one.

We’ve got a lot of evidence that they existed, but we just really underestimated how hard it would be to get a picture of these birds. This island was ground zero for ivory bills in ’06. We’ve made many recordings of kent calls and double knocks on this island in that first year we searched.

Graduate student, Brian Rollick has done much of the searching. He camped out in this mosquito-infested swamp for four months. And he says one day, a pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers flew right by him. But they were too quick. Later, while paddling the swamp in kayaks, this fleeting image was recorded from a head-mounted video camera.

So there it is. You can see a lot of white. It does appear that this bird has white on its secondaries, on the back of its wings. The body appears to be black. So that’s consistent with an ivory-billed. It’s not really consistent with anything else that’s in this forest.

A massive search to find an ivory bill began shortly after a large, redheaded woodpecker that could have been an ivory bill was caught on video in Arkansas. An ivory bill had not been filmed in the wild for more than 60 years. Researchers have recorded kent calls and distinctive double knocks many times. But none of the hundreds of feet on the ground, or the remote motion detecting cameras that took thousands of pictures managed to get a clear, indisputable image of this publicity-shy bird. Auburn researchers have started using cameras triggered by vibration. They work better than those using motion detection. When a woodpecker lands on a punky snag to hunt for larvae, it starts pecking. And that sends a signal to the camera to take a picture.

Here’s a Pileated Woodpecker digging into the tree near the sensor and we’re getting numerous pictures of him. Letting the machine sit out there with infinite patience might get us the bird.

So if you turn it on…

Researchers have six cameras, but 120 square miles to search, and 3000 possible nesting cavities. They change camera locations every week or so, and are confident that eventually, they will get a clear picture to dispel any doubt that the ivory-billed woodpecker still lives.

For Assignment Earth, this is Bruce Burkhart.

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"Assignment Earth" features compelling video reports from the front lines of major environmental stories from around the globe. Topics include global warming, pollution, habitat destruction and endangered species.