The Search for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Story Highlights
  • A 2004 video clip showed what many believed to be the ivory-billed woodpecker, long considered extinct.
  • The video sparked unprecedented searching and hope for the bird's survival.
  • But, after two years, searchers have yet to provide undisputed evidence of the ivory bill's existence.
  • In December 2008, an interested citizen offered a $50,000 reward for any evidence leading researchers to a live ivory bill.

Dutch scientist Martjan Lammertink, poised to record any glimpse of the Ivory-billed Woodepecker.

The Ivory-Bill: A Ghost of the Old South

More than 60 years after the ivory-billed woodpecker was thought to be extinct in the United States, researchers in 2004 found evidence that the majestic bird may still live.

In February of 2004, a kayaker caught sight of an ivory-billed woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, an encounter that led to an extensive scientific search for the bird.

Most had long given up hope for the ivory-bill, which had lost its habitat to intensive logging. But in Arkansas’ Mississippi Delta, a swath of the Big Woods remains.

The Search Is On

That first sighting in 2004 launched a year-long search by the Big Woods Conservation Partnership, led by The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

Since then, the partnership's researchers collected evidence they believe confirms the existence of the magnificent ivory-bill. The bird was spotted more than a dozen times by a team of experts and searchers.

Seven credible sightings, along with other evidence — including video and possible recordings of the bird’s distinctive double knock — have convinced many scientists that in the woods of this swampy refuge, the ivory-bill woodpecker survives.

"The bird captured on video is clearly an ivory-billed woodpecker," said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Reward Offered in 2008 For Evidence of Ivory Bill

But four years and many search parties later, no additional proof of the bird's existence has emerged.

Now an interested citizen has offered up a $50,000 reward to anyone who can point researchers to the ivory bill. The reward will go to a non-paid searcher who provides video, photographs or other compelling evidence that leads scientists to a live ivory bill.

"We have to produce some undisputed evidence of the bird — a feather or a clear photograph — to convince the scientific community that the ivory bill is out there," said Allan Mueller, avian conservation project manager for The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas.

Hope for the Future

While the search continues, hope for the ivory bill's existence has translated into direct conservation results. Since the 2004 sighting, thousands of acres have been protected, some of which have been added to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in the Big Woods.

"For over 20 years, many agencies, conservation organizations, hunters and landowners have aggressively worked to conserve and restore the bottomland hardwood and swamp ecosystem," said Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy of Arkansas. "Now we know we must work even harder to conserve this critical habitat — not just for the ivory-billed woodpecker, but for the black bears and many other rare species of these unique woods."