View from Sapsucker Woods: What Does the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Imply for Hen Conservation?

color block illustration of a back and white bird with a red crest.
Ivory-billed Woodpecker artwork by Charley Harper, used with permission from Charley Harper Artwork Studio.

From the Summer season 2023 concern of Residing Hen journal. Subscribe now.

As I write this essay, hypothesis continues to mount throughout social media, in newspapers, and even in scientific journals on whether or not the Ivo­ry-billed Woodpecker continues to exist within the U.S. Partially this displays a flurry of latest unconfirmed studies suggesting ivory-bills could have been refound in a variety of states, in addition to a pending announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether or not to declare the species formally extinct. Maybe greater than something it displays the enduring standing of the Lord God Hen and its ca­pacity to encourage the creativeness of birdwatchers, particularly within the U.S.

The final generally agreed upon sighting was in 1944. In 2005 the Cornell Lab of Ornithology joined in an effort that produced eyewitness accounts and unconfirmed video and audio proof of an ivory-bill in Arkansas, however regardless of intensive follow-up surveys it was not relocated. In 2021 the USFWS professional­posed delisting 11 birds from the Endangered Species Act attributable to extinction, together with the ivory-bill, which has been the topic of constant debate.

What new proof has come ahead in that point? To this point, it includes difficult-to-interpret photograph­graphs, movies, and sound recordings. As a latest New York Instances headline put it: A Vanished Hen Would possibly Dwell On, or Not. The Video Is Grainy. The brand new proof definitely falls wanting the visible or genomic proof required to verify ongoing existence of a species. This isn’t sudden. Regardless of their dimension, ivory-bills are regarded as elusive, and the tracts of forests being searched are distant. Audio proof  of ivory-bills is surprisingly troublesome to interpret due to the paucity of verified recordings, in addition to complicated calls by different species or different sounds within the atmosphere.

Nonetheless, for scientists akin to myself, quite a few items of comparatively weak proof don’t add as much as a com­pelling case. We want one thing that stands as much as unbiased scrutiny.

The present proof appears to recommend that USFWS will declare the ivory-bill extinct. If the USFWS decides to not declare the ivory-bill extinct presently, it’s a assertion of hope that in opposition to all odds this magnificent chook should still persist. I strongly assist the USFWS in making this troublesome deci­sion, however both method, the larger image that features declared extinctions for the opposite 10 U.S. chook species is deeply sobering—not solely as a result of every one represents an irreplaceable loss, however as a result of threats to birds and different species are accelerating at an unprece­dented charge.  

One in eight birds on the earth immediately—greater than 1,000 species—are threatened with extinction, and a whole lot and even 1000’s extra are in decline. This disaster is not restricted to the loss of some species, however the collapse of total ecosystems. Three billion breeding birds have been misplaced from the U.S. and Canada alone up to now 50 years, and the tendencies are eerily related throughout Europe.  

The continued seek for ivory-bills illustrates a strong conservation lesson: As soon as populations get down to some people, or a pair patches of habitat, the challenges to bringing them again are immense. That is vividly demonstrated in Hawaii, the place birds are in disaster, and the place the USFWS just lately declared one other eight birds to be extinct. In whole, 103 out of 142 Hawaiian chook species discovered nowhere else have now turn into extinct. If we’re to achieve success in bending the curve of loss for birds and biodiversity, we have to act a lot earlier within the extinction course of.

The following 5 to 10 years will likely be important to reverse the steep declines of many birds. I strongly imagine our focus now must be on broad conservation actions relatively than chasing charismatic species. We have to harness the eagerness catalyzed by the ivory-bill to save lots of species and habitats whereas we nonetheless have the prospect, earlier than they too share the destiny of this iconic species.

Ian Owens is the chief director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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