Ivory-billed woodpecker search season ends

May 18, 2006

There were teasing glimpses and tantalizing sounds, but the 2005-2006 search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas has concluded without the definitive visual documentation being sought. The search, led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with support from Audubon Arkansas, stretched from November through April when ivory-bill activity would be highest and a lack of leaf-cover permitted clear views through the dense forest. The search included 22 full-time searchers and state-of-the-art acoustic and video monitoring technology. To supplement the full-time effort, volunteer groups of 14 spent two weeks at a time helping to search the 550,000-acre area focused on the Cache and White River National Wildlife Refuges.

“The search teams were very skilled, not only technically but in the execution of the search,” said Dr. John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Even though we didn’t get additional definitive evidence of the ivory-bill in Arkansas, we’re not discouraged. The vastness of the forest combined with the highly mobile nature of the bird warrant additional searching.”

Remote microphones and cameras collected thousands of hours of recordings that will be reviewed by scientists at the Lab of Ornithology through a process aided by sophisticated sound-analysis software. In addition, on a number of occasions searchers heard possible ivory-bill “kent” calls and the bird’s distinctive double-rap drumming display. Other searchers glimpsed birds that could have been ivory-bills, but the fleeting nature of the encounters made it impossible to note field marks that would have made these “confirmed” sightings.

“Even though we didn’t grab the brass ring in our efforts to locate a roost or nest cavity, the information we gathered this season will be extremely informative for continued searching in Arkansas and other key states in the species’ historic range,” said Ron Rohrbaugh, director of the search for the Lab.

“The search team did an excellent job working to strategically search this huge area,” said Jon Andrew, who leads the recovery team for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “They’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and it’s not easy to get around in some of these places.”

 “The Big Woods is a wetland of global significance and extraordinarily important to the traditions and economies of local communities here in eastern Arkansas,” said Roger Mangham, The Nature Conservancy’s Delta program director. “The Conservancy has been working in the Big Woods for more than 20 years. We are continuing our long-term efforts to restore bottomland forests and to increase and accelerate assessment of the health of and threats to the region’s rivers, which are the lifeblood of this natural system. What we’re learning is critical to the conservation of the Big Woods and to the wide array of plants and animals that live there.”

The search has provided valuable new information about the bottomland forest habitat that will be used to further conservation efforts for this unique and threatened ecosystem.

“The search for the ivory-billed woodpecker is not over,” said Ken Smith, executive director of Audubon Arkansas. “And while visitors may not have seen the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, they have not gone away disappointed. The incredible habitat, wildlife and plant diversity of the Big Woods has provided them with a rich and interesting experience.”

Searches and assessments of habitat conditions at Congaree National Park in South Carolina and Georgia, principally Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, are now transitioning from field work to data entry and analysis. Elsewhere, efforts in Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama are just now--or will be--getting underway. All of these efforts, like the search in Arkansas, are being overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Attention focused on the Big Woods in early 2004 when experienced birders reported seeing an ivory-billed woodpecker in the Bayou de View region of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. The ensuing search resulted in several more sightings and several seconds of video showing with the diagnostic characteristics of an ivory-bill taking off from the trunk of a tupelo tree where it had been perched.

A final report on the 2005-06 ivory-bill search will be issued later this summer.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that preserves plants,
animals and natural communities representing the diversity of life on Earth
by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. To date, the
Conservancy has been responsible for protecting more than 15 million acres in the United States and more than 102 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific.

The National Audubon Society is dedicated to protecting birds and other
wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our growing network of
community based Audubon Centers, grass-roots science programs for bird enthusiasts, and advocacy on behalf of ecosystems sustaining important bird populations engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in positive conservation experiences.