New Findings Released in the Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

The National Aviary, along with Project Principalis, is delighted to announce that we have made available to the public the results to date of our search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. A paper titled, “Multiple lines of evidence indicate survival of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Louisiana” co-authored by Steven Latta, Mark Michaels, and eight other Project Principalis members and collaborators, can be viewed here. People who have been close to the search know that this is the result of many years of effort by Project Coyote, followed by several more years of intensive field work by the National Aviary and Project Principalis.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is perhaps the most iconic and storied of any North American bird. The largest woodpecker on the continent, the species inspires awe and captures the imagination, and the story of its decline serves as a reminder of the power we have to affect the course of conservation. Our work here seeks to document the survival of these magnificent birds so that we might save them and preserve the habitats that are crucial to so many species in the American southeast.

This new work by the National Aviary and Project Principalis uses multiple lines of evidence to demonstrate the repeated presence of as many as three Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at our study site in Louisiana. We draw upon these years of search effort, and provide trail camera photos and drone videos suggesting the intermittent if not consistent presence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at our study site. Data indicate that Ivorybills are repeatedly reusing foraging sites and core habitat in our study area. We offer insights into behaviors of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker that make this species difficult to find and observe. We also discuss the value of accumulated evidence such as ours and what repeated observations may indicate for continued survival of this iconic species.

As a group, we are confident in our results. We look forward to our data informing management and conservation of bottomland forests for this species and for others that share the habitat. The continuing survival of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Louisiana has conservation management implications not only in that state, but also widely within the historic range of the species, which encompasses much of the southeastern United States. We expect that Ivorybills persist in other places also, if not permanently then episodically or periodically. Conservation of large and continuous tracts of bottomland forest, conserved so these areas exhibit old growth forest characteristics, is critical for the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers’ population size to improve.

The report of our progress to date is not the end of our efforts. We are encouraged and energized by what we have accomplished. We believe that our intentional and systematic survey design is paying off through complementary lines of investigation. Our findings, and the inferences drawn from them, suggest an increasingly hopeful future for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Our paper has been released through BioRxiv (pronounced “Bio-Archive”), an online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences. The preprint process allows authors to make their findings immediately available to the scientific community and receive feedback on draft manuscripts. It also allows resource managers and decision-makers to have immediate access to our data far sooner than would be possible through traditional peer-reviewed journals. In the meantime, we will continue to pursue publication in a peer-reviewed journal. We continue our field work in Louisiana to better understand the distribution and ecology of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and to protect critical bottomland habitats for the woodpecker and other species.

For media inquiries, please contact the National Aviary’s Department of Marketing and Communications at molly.toth@aviary.org.

For general questions and comments about the work of Project Principalis, please contact projectprincipalis@aviary.org.

This work is supported by donations and contributions from individual donors and foundations. To support our ongoing work to preserve this iconic species, please consider a donation today by selecting Project Principalis from the dropdown menu at the link below.

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