Scientist Latta Knows, but Cannot Prove, That Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Is Not Extinct

I respect and admire Dr. Latta for having the courage to affirm what he saw with his own two eyes. Other scientists should not be so quick to ‘give him the bird’ (so to speak ;).

(p. A19) If there’s new hope, it’s blurry. What’s certain: The roller coaster tale of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a majestic bird whose presumed extinction has been punctuated by a series of contested rediscoveries, is going strong.

The latest twist is a peer-reviewed study Thursday [May 18, 2023] in the journal Ecology and Evolution presenting sighting reports, audio recordings, trail camera images and drone video. Collected over the last decade in a Louisiana swamp forest, the precise location omitted for the birds’ protection, the authors write that the evidence suggests the “intermittent but repeated presence” of birds that look and behave like ivory-billed woodpeckers.

But are they?

“It’s this cumulative evidence from our multiyear search that leaves us very confident that this iconic species exists, and it persists in Louisiana and probably other places as well,” said Steven C. Latta, one of the study’s authors and director of conservation and field research at the National Aviary, a nonprofit bird zoo in Pittsburgh that helps lead a program that searches for the species.

But Dr. Latta acknowledges that no single piece of evidence is definitive, and the study is carefully tempered with words like “putative” and “possible.”

. . .

. . . Dr. Latta, the study co-author, insisted that he had seen one clearly with his own eyes. He was in the field in 2019 to set up recording units, and he figures he spooked the bird. As it flew up and away, he got a close, unimpeded view of its signature markings.

“I couldn’t sleep for, like, three days,” Dr. Latta said. “It was because I had this opportunity and I felt this responsibility to establish for the rest of the world, or at least the conservation world, that this bird actually does exist.”

For the full story, see:

Catrin Einhorn. “Experts Strive to Prove ‘This Bird Actually Does Exist’.” The New York Times (Friday, May 19, 2023): A19.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added. The online version of the article says that the print version appears on p. 21. My national edition of the print version appeared on p. 19.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 18, 2023, and has the title “A Vanished Bird Might Live On, or Not. The Video Is Grainy.”)

The peer-reviewed paper, co-authored by Latta and mentioned above, is:

Latta, Steven C., Mark A. Michaels, Thomas C. Michot, Peggy L. Shrum, Patricia Johnson, Jay Tischendorf, Michael Weeks, John Trochet, Don Scheifler, and Bob Ford. “Multiple Lines of Evidence Suggest the Persistence of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Campephilus Principalis) in Louisiana.” Ecology and Evolution 13, no. 5 (2023): e10017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *