Perched Woodpecker

Remarkably, 20-26 sec before the bird in the Luneau video starts to fly, a black-white-black patterned object is visible on a vertical tree trunk just 3 m from the tree where the bird later flies. (Click here for closeup video clip.) The object is vertically oriented, angling slightly off the trunk exactly in the manner of a perched woodpecker (this perch-angle is most obvious just before the object passes out of view to the left). The object measures in the range of 35-45 cm, as determined by comparing it to the diameter of the tree on which it is perched (29 cm). Its white central patch is bordered above and below by black. This object is not present on the same tree 26 sec later (i.e., when the woodpecker flies in the Luneau video), nor on subsequent visits to the site as early as a few days afterward.

Although this black-and-white object is indistinct and cannot be positively identified on its own, we regard it as an important piece of information in the Luneau video that demands an explanation. If it is a bird--as we believe it must be--it can only be an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (or a large Pileated Woodpecker with an abnormal patch of white on its wings and back).

In figure S5 of the Supporting Online Material with Fitzpatrick et al. (2005) we inadvertently included images of another black-and-white object in the Luneau video, an error that occurred because in preparation of the figure we worked with stills rather than video in motion. The erroneous black-and-white object in figure S5 of Fitzpatrick et al. (2005) is actually not associated with a vertical tree trunk. In the figures presented here we document and discuss the single black-and-white perched object that is clearly evident in the moving Luneau video, stays associated with an identified spot on a tree trunk over a wide range of angles, and has disappeared when the "Luneau woodpecker" is in flight. Because of these sequential events, we rule out that this perched object is a branch stub or another inanimate object.

We hypothesize that the perched woodpecker detected the approaching canoe shortly after the moments captured in this video clip, flew down to perch and hid behind a nearby, wider tupelo, then flew away as the canoe approached too closely.

This figure above presents a sequence of video fields from the Luneau video, and later reenactment, revealing the presence of an object having the pattern and size of an ivory-billed woodpecker 26 sec before the woodpecker flies. 

Click on the letters A, B, C, or D below for a larger view of selected image hot spots. The links will open a new browser window.   Close the window to return to the main web site.

(A): A black-white-black patterned object (approximately 35-45 cm tall, as estimated from width of tree) is perched on a trunk 3 m beyond and slightly above the spot where the bird later flies. During reenactment, an ivory-billed woodpecker model (upper left panel) was placed at the same place on the same trunk, producing a pattern very similar to that in the Luneau video. Note that the slanting branch that appears in the Luneau video had broken off at the time of the reenactment.

(B): The object remains fixed in place on the same trunk while the Luneau canoe and camera move to the right, causing shifts in the relative position of most objects in the video field (e.g., colored squares identifying separate tree trunks). The object is clearly not located in the foreground, but at this angle is along the left border of the same trunk and angled slightly to the upper left, as matched by the model (lower left panel).

(C): 23.93 seconds later, during which time we believe the bird moved from its original position, the canoe and camera rounded a bend in the bayou, and the “Luneau woodpecker” begins flying away (left-hand frame). The perched object is absent in this field, and all subsequent fields (red box identifies expected location on the trunk).

(D): The position of the model during the reenactment (right-hand frame) remains fixed in the same place as in A and B, showing the exact position of the woodpecker-like object earlier in the video. We surmise that the flying bird is the same individual as the one that had been perched close by only moments earlier, which bore the size and diagnostic white dorsal pattern of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

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