Science via AP
Ivory-billed woodpeckers are shown in an artist rendering provided by the journal Science. staff and news service reports
updated 9/26/2006 4:07:08 PM ET 2006-09-26T20:07:08

Researchers who spent months in remote northwest Florida swamps reported 14 sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker but failed to get any photos — thus fueling the debate over whether the bird is or is not extinct.

The Auburn University ornithologists, who published their findings Tuesday in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology, failed to capture a picture of the large woodpecker with the white bill that makes a distinct double rapping sound.

But they did find 20 cavities in trees that were the size the woodpecker would make. And they got dozens of sound recordings from seven listening locations placed in the area, located along the Choctawhatchee River basin and near the town of Bruce, Fla.

"On 41 occasions different team members ... heard that double knock; it's a sound the ivory-billed makes that no other bird makes," Auburn ornithologist Geoffrey Hill said.

“Among the promising evidence are recordings of ‘kent’ vocalizations apparently being given by two birds in response to one another, and double raps recorded in conjunction with vocalizations,” Jerome Jackson, a Florida Gulf Coast University ornithologist and biology professor, said in a press release by Auburn. “The researchers have presented this evidence with an appropriate note of caution, but let’s keep the hope alive that Hill and his colleagues may have quietly found an ivory-bill Shangri-la along the Choctawhatchee.”

The bird was thought extinct until 2004 when Cornell University researchers released recordings and an inconclusive grainy video after searching for it in the swamps of eastern Arkansas. The last confirmed ivory-billed sighting was in 1944.

November trip planned
Hill headed the search that ended in May. He said his team would return to the Choctawhatchee River basin sometime around November with better equipment to try to get photographs.

"The ultimate prize is finding pairs visiting roost holes and making babies, that would be the holy grail," said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell lab, which consulted with the Auburn team. "Absent that, the intervening step is to get a photograph that allows everyone else to see the evidence and get on board."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is working with the federal government and some private agencies to provide additional funding for Hill's team, agency spokesman Willie Puz said. Puz said funding is in the early stages and he did not know how much the researchers would receive.

$10,000 budget
Hill's five-member team from Auburn, Ala., conducted its search on a $10,000 budget. Hill said the extra funding should help them deliver the conclusive evidence the world is demanding.

"I think people should be skeptical. I think they should demand clear photographic evidence. I might start to get skeptical myself thinking, 'I've seen this bird,' but how could I have seen a bird that it is impossible to photograph," he said.

Florida officials praised the early evidence.

"This will be fantastic if we can confirm the woodpeckers are there," conservation commission Chairman Rodney Barreto said in a statement. "Florida is the only state besides Arkansas to come close to confirmation in roughly 40 years."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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