I’ve been watching birds most of my life. I’ve seen a pileated woodpecker just three times; twice when I was 12 years old and living (briefly) in Florida, a third time in my early 20s when visiting my father near Houston. Those sightings were very memorable for me; the pileated woodpecker is a spectacular bird: big as a crow, boldly marked, loud, and boisterous. If a pileated woodpecker were a human, it would be like Muhammed Ali in his prime, only dressed like Liberace. That bird just owns any room it’s in.
One of the things that makes the pileated so nifty, at least for me, is the visual reminder it provides of its close relative, the ivory-billed woodpecker. Even larger and more spectacular than the pileated, the ivory-billed has been thought extinct for decades, its population having crashed in the 19th and early 20th centuries after the southeastern old-growth forests it favored were logged.
There were occasional reports, unconfirmed, of someone seeing one in the backwoods somewhere, but experts always ended up concluding that the sightings actually involved misidentified pileateds. For a while the Cuban subspecies of the ivory-billed was believed to have survived, but then it, too, was downgraded to “presumed extinct.” Today’s best bird-watcher’s field guide, the Sibley Guide to the Birds, doesn’t even bother depicting the ivory-billed.
Well, hold on to your hats, bird-lovers: Ivory-billed woodpecker refound in the USA. There’s also coverage from the Washington Post: Woodpecker thought extinct rediscovered, and from Reuters: Ivory billed woodpecker, feared extinct, isn’t.
I realize that the fact that a tiny remnant population (possibly just a single individual) has managed to survive doesn’t offer much hope; the odds are stacked very much against the species’ actually recovering. Species go extinct; it’s the way of things. But like individual death, extinction is forever, and for someone who cherishes the beauty and wonder of creation, staving it off, if only for a little bit, is reason to celebrate.
Yee ha. The ivory-billed woodpecker lives. That makes my day.
Update: Here are some additional details courtesy the very-much-abuzz birdwatchers’ mailing lists I subscribe to:
For a while CNN’s web site had a small still image taken from a video of the bird (except it actually wasn’t; see below); that image has been removed now, but Google still had a copy of it:
(Later update: Oh, except that image actually is a still from a test video showing a wooden model of the bird that the researchers used for comparison purposes. See the link below for the actual video image.)
From ivorybill.org (!), a video news release that includes the actual footage of the bird: Video news release.
Finally, in PDF form, the article from Science that came out today: Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) persists in continental North America.