Meeks, (334) 844-2445 or (678) 200-4960 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Carol Nelson, (334) 844-8121 or (334) 309-6050 (email@example.com)
SCIENTISTS PUBLISH EVIDENCE OF IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKERS IN FLORIDA
AUBURN - A research team led by Auburn University professor Geoff Hill,
Ph.D., has compiled evidence that a population of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers
exists in a remote river basin in the panhandle of Florida, as reported
today in Avian Conservation & Ecology, an electronic scientific journal
Hill, an author, professor and ornithologist in AUs College of Science
and Mathematics, led a kayaking expedition in May, 2005 with two research
assistants, Tyler Hicks and Brian Rolek, along a section of the Choctawhatchee
River in the Florida panhandle.
Soon after they started their float down the Choctawhatchee, Rolek observed
an ivorybill in flight and Hill heard a double knock, the signature sound
of the ivorybill. Numerous large cavities in trees and places where thick,
tightly adhering bark had been scaled from dead trees added impetus to
It was just to be a weekend outing looking for potential habitat,
said Hill, who at the time was writing a book about bird coloration. We
really never dreamed wed actually find an ivorybill.
Hill and his assistants made subsequent visits to the area, located near
the town of Bruce, Fla., in an effort to better document the birds. On
the weekend after their initial discovery, Hicks, an expert in bird identification,
got a clear view of a female Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which has distinct
plumage, including a white trailing edge on the upper wing, white stripes
down the back and an all black crest.
Hill then organized a follow-up search of the area and invited Dan Mennill,
Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario,
to join the search team. Mennill, who is an expert at recording and analyzing
animal sounds, devised a means to remotely record sounds in the swamp
and erected seven listening stations in the area of the ivorybill sightings.
The regular, ongoing reports from Dr. Hill and his research team
for the past 16 months have provided me an extraordinarily captivating
and rewarding experience, said Stewart Schneller, dean of the AU
College of Science and Mathematics. In turn, the excitement that
exists with the anticipation of their future investigations is beyond
While the Auburn and Windsor scientists are confident in their discovery
that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers persist in the swamp forests along the Choctawhatchee,
they realize that the evidence amassed to date is not conclusive proof.
Hill emphasized that the only evidence that would constitute irrefutable
proof is a clear photograph or video of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and
such an image has to date eluded us.
From May 2005 to May 2006, however, the Auburn/Windsor research team recorded
14 sightings of ivorybills, including two by Hill. From more than 10,000
hours of audio recordings, Mennill and his research assistant Kyle Swiston
have identified more than 300 sounds that match descriptions of Ivory-billed
They located 20 cavities with entrances within the range recorded for
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, but larger than the entrances to the cavities
typically created by other birds in this area. And they noted numerous
dead trees on which thick, tightly adhering bark has been scaled cleanly
away, which fits the description of ivorybill feeding marks.
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, said
Jerome A. Jackson, Ph.D., a renowned ornithologist and professor of biology
at Florida Gulf Coast University. The researchers have presented
this evidence with an appropriate note of caution, but lets keep
the hope alive that Hill and his colleagues may have quietly found an
ivorybill Shangri-la along the Choctawhatchee, said Jackson.
The scientists encourage interested parties to listen to the recordings
and view photographs taken during the expeditions at www.auburn.edu/ivorybill.
Based on their evidence, Hill and Mennill will expand their search for
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Choctawhatchee River basin in the winter
and spring of 2007.
The Hill/Mennill team will present its findings at the North American
Ornithological Conference in Veracruz, Mexico on Oct. 4, 2006.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, so impressive it was called the Lord
God Bird in some regions, was thought to be extinct for more than 50 years,
said Hill. Now, there is new hope for scientists, naturalists and
birders that these birds persist in the panhandle of Florida.
Auburn University is a preeminent land-grant and comprehensive research
institution with more than 23,500 students and 6,500 faculty and staff.
Ranked among the top 50 public universities nationally, Auburn offers
more than 230 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs.