The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a majestic species once prevalent in the hardwood bottomlands of the American South, has long been a subject of debate among birders.
Some believe the bird is extinct, CNN reports, pushed out by logging, development, and hunting in the early 20th century
Others adamantly believe that a handful of these birds still exist in remote patches of the south.
Unfortunately, after decades of searching, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed officially removing the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from the endangered species list and declaring it extinct.
The “Lord God Bird” is among 23 species being proposed for removal, 11 of which are birds.
Among the other birds that have been proposed for removal from the Endangered Species Act:
- Bachman’s Warbler: A tiny, drab inhabitant of southeastern forests that was last spotted in 1988
- Bridled White-eye: A small, olive, warbler-like bird that was once found on Guam
- Kauai Akialoa: A bird endemic to Kauai that is now extinct due to habitat removal, introduced species like rats, climate change, and avian malaria
- Kauai Nukupuu: Another bird endemic to Kauai that has been listed as critically endangered due to habitat loss and predation by introduced species
- Kauaʻi ʻōʻō: A now-extinct bird endemic to Kauai, the last of which was observed in 1987
- Large Kauai Thrush: A bird endemic to Kauai that has been listed as critically endangered due to habitat loss and predation by introduced species
- Maui ākepa: A bird endemic to Maui that has been listed as critically endangered due to habitat loss and predation by introduced species
- Maui Nukupuʻu: A bird endemic to Maui that is now extinct due to habitat loss and predation by introduced species
- Molokai Creeper: A bird endemic to Molokai that is now extinct due to habitat loss and predation by introduced species
- Po`ouli: A bird endemic to Maui that is now extinct due to habitat loss and predation by introduced species
“With climate change and natural area loss pushing more and more species to the brink, now is the time to lift up proactive, collaborative, and innovative efforts to save America’s wildlife. The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly effective at preventing species from going extinct and has also inspired action to conserve at-risk species and their habitat before they need to be listed as endangered or threatened,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “We will continue to ensure that states, Tribes, private landowners, and federal agencies have the tools they need to conserve America’s biodiversity and natural heritage.”
Importance of the Endangered Species Act
“These species extinctions highlight the importance of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and efforts to conserve species before declines become irreversible,” the FWS said in its announcement.
Unfortunately, habitat destruction, climate change, and the introduction of invasive species continue to pose threats to many bird species.
The protections afforded by the ESA, which came into effect in 1973, had come too late for these species. However, the act has been successful at preventing the extinction of more than 99% of species listed, and its protections are needed now more than ever.
“The Service is actively engaged with diverse partners across the country to prevent further extinctions, recover listed species and prevent the need for federal protections in the first place,” said Martha Williams, FWS Principal Deputy Director. “The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly successful at both preventing extinctions and at inspiring the diverse partnerships needed to meet our growing 21st century conservation challenges.”
Ivory-billed Woodpecker Status
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, once considered the largest woodpecker in the United States, has not been seen for several decades. The last confirmed sighting of this bird is generally accepted as taking place in 1944 on the Singer Tract in northeast Louisiana, WWNO reports. Despite extensive survey efforts throughout the southeastern U.S., the bird has not been relocated. The population of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was also once found in Cuba, but the last confirmed sighting of that bird was in 1986.
The loss of mature forest habitat is believed to be one of the primary threats leading to the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the FWS maintains. Historically, this bird preferred large tracts of undisturbed, mature bottomland hardwood forests, which have been severely reduced due to logging and land-use changes. Habitat fragmentation and degradation also play a significant role in the bird’s decline. Additionally, poaching and the collection of the bird for the feather trade and museum specimens has contributed to its dwindling numbers.
Despite efforts to save the bird, such as the Singer Tract, where the bird was last seen, being designated a National Wildlife Refuge, it has not been enough to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.
Efforts to save the Ivory-billed Woodpecker continue to this day, and there is still hope that the bird may one day be rediscovered. Conservation groups and organizations are working hard to protect and restore the bird’s habitat, including the creation of new protected areas, such as the Big Woods Conservation Partnership in Arkansas. However, the challenges of bringing back a species from the brink of extinction are immense, and it will take a coordinated effort from governments, scientists, and individuals to make this a reality. The plight of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker serves as a reminder of the importance of conservation and the need to protect endangered species before it’s too late.
Despite the lack of confirmed sightings, there have been numerous reported sightings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker over the past few decades. Some of these sightings have been supported by video footage and audio recordings, NPR reports. However, many of these sightings have been controversial, with some experts disputing the evidence and suggesting that the birds seen may have been a similar-looking species, such as the Pileated Woodpecker.
One of the most notable controversial sightings occurred in 2004, when a group of birdwatchers reported seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The sighting was supported by video footage and audio recordings, which were analyzed by experts and deemed to be credible. However, other experts argued that the evidence was inconclusive and that the bird seen could have been a Pileated Woodpecker.
Despite the controversy surrounding the 2004 sighting, it sparked renewed interest in the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and led to increased efforts to protect its habitat and conduct further research.
Other Endangered Birds in the United States
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is just one of many bird species in the United States that are considered endangered or threatened. Some of the other endangered bird species include:
- California Condor: With a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, the California Condor is one of the largest birds in North America. However, due to habitat loss, poaching, and lead poisoning, the population of California Condors declined to just 27 birds in 1987. Thanks to conservation efforts, the population has slowly increased, but there are still only around 500 birds in the wild today.
- Whooping Crane: The Whooping Crane is one of the rarest birds in North America, with only around 800 birds left in the wild. Habitat loss, hunting, and predation have contributed to the decline of this species, but conservation efforts, such as captive breeding and habitat restoration, have helped to increase the population in recent years.
- Hawaiian Crow: Also known as the ‘Alala, the Hawaiian Crow is endemic to Hawaii and is considered critically endangered. The species was declared extinct in the wild in 2002, but captive breeding programs have helped to increase the population to around 130 birds today.
- Black-capped Vireo: The Black-capped Vireo is a small songbird that breeds in Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. Habitat loss and fragmentation have led to a decline in the population, which is estimated to be around 14,000 birds.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is an iconic bird species that has captured the imagination of birdwatchers and conservationists alike. Despite the lack of confirmed sightings in recent years, efforts to protect the species and its habitat continue, and there is still hope that the species may one day be rediscovered.
This is just one of many endangered bird species in the United States, and it is important that we continue to work towards protecting and conserving these species.
By raising awareness and supporting conservation efforts, we can help to ensure that these birds continue to thrive for generations to come.
This article by Matthew Russell was first published by The Animal Rescue Site. Lead Image: ADOBE STOCK / WIRESTOCK CREATORS.
What you can do
Support ‘Fighting for Wildlife’ by donating as little as $1 – It only takes a minute. Thank you.
Fighting for Wildlife supports approved wildlife conservation organizations, which spend at least 80 percent of the money they raise on actual fieldwork, rather than administration and fundraising. When making a donation you can designate for which type of initiative it should be used – wildlife, oceans, forests or climate.