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Spotted

Currently at the JREF forums, there is a big debate going on about possible Ivory Billed Woodpecker sightings. This bird has been thought to be extinct for over 50 years, and no reliable sightings that I am aware of have come forth. Unless one wants to count very blurry and out of focus images (apologies to Mitch Hedberg, maybe the bird itself has evolved out of focus?). Amongst enthusiasts, this bird seems to be bordering on an obsession to many, and any refutation of supposed evidence is met with hostility.

How likely is it for this bird to not actually be extinct given what we know about the destruction of its habitat and how it was hunted?

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    There's a large, out-of-focus bird roaming the countryside? That's much more scary. Run! He;s fuzzy! – Monkey Tuesday May 18 '11 at 4:10
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    What sort of evidence would you like to see to convince you either way? Seems to me the extinct case is: It haven't been any confirmed sightings for 50 years, and the extant case is: That doesn't prove it, and there are some unconfirmed cases. What more is there to add? – Oddthinking May 22 '11 at 7:03
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    @Oddthinking, I suppose more information on the habitat and behaviour of the bird in relation to the current ecological makeup of the Southeastern US? Not really sure. Just wanted to see if more information than just the discussion of these supposed sightings is available. :) – Larian LeQuella May 22 '11 at 14:03
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+150

It's not entirely out of the question. There have been many previous cases of animals that were not sighted for years eventually showing up again.

The ivory-billed woodpecker normally requires hardwood forests (see Wikipedia), but the problem with assuming that the animal is gone because the hardwood forests were largely cleared is that we can't be sure that the bird could not possibly adapt to another environment, at least for a while (e.g. the population growth might be negative, but it might take a while for the last animals to disappear).

So given that the habitat of the woodpecker is not a blasted wasteland and is not entirely urbanized, I'd be surprised if one could come up with any firm probabilities aside from, "Likely extinct, but don't bet too much on it."

  • This is a good answer, but I'd like to get some more information if at all possible. – Larian LeQuella May 21 '11 at 16:20
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    I would also add the Takahē to the list. – nico Oct 1 '11 at 15:35
  • We were just talking about this in my office. Stack Exchange, you provide once again! – JasonR Nov 13 '15 at 20:36

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