NEW Poll - Ivory Billed Woodpecker Status

What do you think about the Ivory Billed Woodpecker? Is it an exciting discovery or simply a case of misidentification - do you really care either way?

I'd love to hear from you and please visit my blog and cast your vote!


Patrick Belardo said...

I'm, unfortunately, in the "does not exist" category. I'd love for it to be true, but I need proof.

Great painting there. Mike Digiorgio painted that. I have a print of his Quetzal painting on our wall here.

Anonymous said...

Polls can be fun and informative, but the options you offer are incomplete. How can I answer, "evidence and reports haven't confirmed any exist." That is what I think, i.e. I'm not undecided about the evidence and the claims remain unproven. The species is probably extinct, but that is different from an opinion about the evidence, which is more in line with the question your post asks: is this "simply a case of misidentification." The straight answer to that is "yes."

Owlman said...

Patrick, thanks for stopping in. Like you, I would love to believe that it exists but the evidence is inconclusive at the moment and the more I read about the research and the findings the less convinced I am.
Anonymous, great point - polls are very tricky to get right! I tried to make the poll as open ended and the options as inclusive as possible. I would love to edit the choices based on your feedback, but unfortunately once the voting begins I can't.

cyberthrush said...

Actually, the overall evidence, especially taken over 60 years, is quite good, but simply lacks the photo-verification folks are demanding. An extremely rare, cavity-dwelling bird living in remote areas, should only be spotted on extremely rare occasions, exactly as is happening.

Parus said...

Personally, like most birders, if a fellow birder claims he/she saw something, I'm inclined to believe them.
As a birder, all my sightings have to be on the honor system. I have no reason to believe that so many people could be lying about what they saw. True, people make mistakes but not so many so consistently. At least least 8-10 different people have seen what they believe to be an IBWO. What I do not know, us how many sightings there have been since 2004. Why is there not photographic proof yet? There are only two possibilities. Either the bird that was seen in '04 was the last of it's kind, or the population is so small and the birds so elusive, that getting a clear photograph has been impossible. I'd like to believe the latter rather than the former. We can't afford to lose another species. The passenger pigeon was bad enough.
Anyway, that's my view.

Gallicissa said...

I have just voted to say that it exists! I still maintain some feeble hope.

Anonymous said...

I think cyberthrush and parus represent common misunderstandings of how to evaluate bird records. Only those who can't get it and yet believe, rather than know, the birds are there demand definitive photographic proof, although that is probably necessary now given how they have sold this as a requirement. A rare speices, many others of which have been found, are consistently seen and seen again by multiple, independent observers who have long encounters. This is definitely not the case with the ivorybill reports. Moreover, the nearest relatives of this woodpecker are easy to find in even more difficult habitats. This is why those with experience doubt the likelihood any exist given the amount of searching.

Parus represents another misconception, that all reports are either fabrications or mistakes. Having read and reviewed bird reports for decades, I have seen a whole spectrum of problems from outright fabrication to innocent mistakes and just plain poor descripitions. The current reports mostly fit the innocent mistake model. Some people do embellish, innocently or purposefully. That seems true too in some cases. The biggest problem is that once they believe they have seen an ivorybill, they rely on this conviction as documentation. To make matters worse, most of those who have reported birds also react defensively (understandable but inappropriate). How do we change this? I find the boosterism by commentators like cyberthrush exacerbate this problem and foster deeper division and mistrust.

Owlman said...

This is a great discussion and it has made me think not only about the IBWO, but about sightings in general. It's ironic that photographic/video proof is now the benchmark for proof when in most cases it is still easy to dispute this evidence.

In my mind the search for the IBWO centers on four variables namely population size, species behavior, habitat (difficult to search in swamps) and size of the search area. If there are 10 IBWO's (extremely small population) in the massive search area should they have been photographed by now based on the fact that they are not very shy birds? Anonymous states that "nearest relatives of this woodpecker are easy to find in even more difficult habitats. This is why those with experience doubt the likelihood any exist given the amount of searching”. What I think this statement ignores are the four variables I mentioned above. Yes, these birds are not shy, but they may still be hard to find based on the remote nature of the habitat, size of the habitat and scarcity of the bird itself. This doesn’t mean that the IBWO is not extinct but I think that only after a systematic search could we conclude this. Having said that I don’t think that based on the massive search area that the current search team/s are adequate to conclusively assess the current status of the IBWO.

Anonymous said...

[same anonymous here] Good points Owlman. But part of the belief that birds are around is based on multiple "detections" (whether really ivorybill or not). It's not like we have to search all possible habitat everywhere. There are many "encounters" nearby to search efforts, which have produced most of them. Because large woodpeckers with large home ranges are findable again, this all doesn't make sense. If heard drumming in a spot, then these woodpeckers will be there again and/or highly susceptible to playback or imitation. They usually come in from very long distances; so again, if the detections are really of ivorybills, then they ought to be refound.

As for population size, I think some population biologists view this as one of the weak links in the plausibility of there being any birds extant. A lot of assumptions go into any of this, but for a viable, breeding population to exist, more birds (not so rare) had to exist in the not too distant past. Remember, these periods of possible finds followed by searches have come and gone several times for decades with the same, inconclusive results.

The most troubling problem still is the tenacious and defensive clinging to conviction as the reason to believe. I think this sets a terrible example for birders and suggests this whole bizarre episode is really just about a mundane "coming of (birding) age" story--the realization that we make mistakes, even experts, because we are all human. Some never grapple with that even after decades of birding. Apologies for taking up so much discussion space

Owlman said...

Anonymous, don't apologize for taking up comment space it doesn't cost me anything ;-) Seriously I started this blog hoping to engage fellow birders and this topic has achieved this goal. I must admit that I haven’t read that much about the IBWO before writing about this post and this discussion has forced me to delve a little deeper.

You mention that the “most troubling problem still is the tenacious and defensive clinging to conviction as the reason to believe. I think this sets a terrible example for birders and suggests this whole bizarre episode is really just about a mundane "coming of (birding) age" story--the realization that we make mistakes, even experts, because we are all human. Some never grapple with that even after decades of birding”. Having read more about the sightings I tend to agree with you. What makes me a little wary is that much of the evidence (even from the experts) is pretty circumstantial, although they cite it as concrete evidence of the bird’s existence.

I hear what you’re saying about letting these sightings go and admitting that the bird is gone. I think a major contributing factor (besides ego and professional reputations) is that fact that many birders/nature lovers are romantics at heart and we want to believe that this miracle population still exists. Nope, this is not a good scientific or realistic approach but we take it none the less. If you approach the topic based purely on rationality and objectivity I think most people would agree that there is a tiny likelihood that these birds still exist. However, even the most ardent skeptic can’t dismiss all the evidence pointing to the IBWO, can they? If they can’t then it means that there is a small (tiny) likelihood that they are still out there and people do cling to this hope often in a “tenacious and defensive” manner.

This topic has sparked major waves of debate and controversy in the birding world – no doubt. I wonder to myself whether this is necessarily a bad thing. Bringing people’s attention to the disappearance of this amazing bird may get a few non-birders interested. I was amazed when the IBWO was even mentioned in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy… not that I’m a fan of this sloppy over dramatized show….. ;-)

I’d like to hear what impact you think this controversy has had on the birding community and whether you think any positives can come from it. Do you agree with me that even a hardy skeptic couldn’t dismiss all the circumstantial evidence pointing to the unlikely existence of the IBWO?

Anonymous said...

One good that come come of it is to remind people that you can't believe everything that you're told, whether the topic is evidence of weapons of mass destruction or the "rediscovery" of the Ivory-billed woodpecker.

Personally, after studying the evidence in the latest Ivory-bill go-round, I find it very easy to dismiss additional reports. Every time a sighting can be verified one way or another, every single time over the last 60 years, it always turns out to be something other than an Ivory-bill.

Wishful thinking and fleeting glimpses can convince a lot of people, but it can't revive an extinct bird.

herp_art4Ts said...

I was a big skeptic too, until I saw one in the Choctawhatchee River basin last January. I went with a group attached to Geoff Hill's study, and figured it would just be a good excuse to sit in a kayak in a pristine river swamp. There was no chance of a mistake, it flew right over my head at 15 ft up, the brilliant white secondaries clearly in view along with other field marks. I had a camera in my hands but hesitated because I figured it was a Pileated flying towards me, until it got close enough to allow me to clearly see the field marks of the Ivory Bill. Then it was gone. Another member of our party saw the same bird seconds later.
Far more serious Ivory Bill hunters have spent months in the field without success. I'm there for less than 24 hours and it practically lands on my head. Go figure. You can read a detailed account at my website: www.angelfire.com/id/wildscenes
scroll down until you see the "I Saw an Ivory Billed Woodpecker!" link.

Owlman said...

Hi herp_art4Ts, thanks for stopping in and posting a comment. As I've mentioned I have become more skeptical the more I've read about this bird, however you make an excellent point. Taking pictures of these birds is VERY tricky given the habitat and the fact that 99.99% of the sightings will be Pileateds. I am now at the point where I need to see some sort of photographic proof to convince me - I wish you got a good photo ;-)

Thanks again for stopping in and commenting - much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

I was duck hunting this past weekend deep in the La. swamp that lies between the Red River and the Miss River-an area known as the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area. I watched what I believe to be a female IBW fly across the break we were hunting in. Although no expert on the subject, I had looked at numerous pictures only last year, as my business partner is a photo buff and keeps up with the sightings in Arkansas. Maybe Ill carry a camera the rest of the year, in case I see it again.
My email is jmpratt@michel-pratt.com, if anyone is interested in the exact location.
Mike Pratt

Owlman said...

Hey Mike,

Thanks for popping in. It would be ground breaking if a decent photo of an IBWO was captured. I must say I am rather skeptical about their existence given the resources that have been ploughed into finding them. The issue is taking a decent picture of a pretty elusive bird....not an easy task. In my heart I hope that the IBWO is still around and that the search efforts just haven’t been focused on the right areas. I would appreciate it if you could keep me updated on your progress. Do you know if the IBWO search teams have looked in the area that you spotted the bird?

cyberthrush said...

Depending how confident Mike feels about his sighting he should write it up and send it along to Cornell using the form at:


JAlum said...

Put me in the " This is hog wash" category.

As a 36 year old life long Arkansas resident ,who is a hunter, fisherman, and general outdoors man, and who has spent time in some of the most remote parts of the state, I have never in my life seen an Ivory-Billed woodpecker. I have seen several Pileated Woodpeckers, but not once an Ivory-Billed.

Sadly, the state of Arkansas has spent millions of dollars on an animal that has less evidence of it's existence than Sasquatch (Bigfoot), cougars (in Arkansas) and extraterrestrials.

To be honest, I do not think it is a matter of mistaken identity. I have a feeling that this is a strait out hoax. While probably meant to preserve natural wetlands and habitat, I can't but help but feel that this is little more than fraud.

I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on this matter.