likewise this month: carry out male Baltimore Oriole have actually their own unique songs? and who would certainly play you in a movie variation of "Kingbird Highway"?


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By Kenn Kaufman


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By Kenn Kaufman


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Illustration: Joe Ciardiello

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You are watching: How many ivory billed woodpeckers are left in the world


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Who's Kenn? just put, Kenn isa national treasure. Arenowned birder, author,and conservationist, Kenn Kaufmanhas invested his life devoted to observing birds, reading about birds, writing about birds, and also sharingthe civilization of birds v others.With all the birdy understanding in his brain, he also acts together the field editor foraudioeditorfree.commagazine. So, whenever we have a bird question stumping us approximately the office, we just ask Kenn. And also now girlfriend can, too! If you have a bird or birding concern you'd prefer Kenn come answer, leaving them in the comments below or onFacebook.Maybe following month you'll get the sort of thorough, thoughtful, and also even humorous solution from Kenn we've grown so fond of end the years.—The Editors

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Question:Is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker extinct?

Kenn Kaufman:I have an easy answer for that: yes and also no.

And I’m completely serious. Permit me explain.

No other North American bird has had such a tantalizing, frustrating background as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Large, spectacular, a price of American wilderness, that survived almost into the current era, virtually long enough to be helped by the growing environmental movement and also endangered-species laws. Almost, however not quite.

Of course, there have been reports the sightings (including well-publicized ones) in recent decades. I’m not here to conflict any certain one that them. I’m ready to believe that every one of those observers genuinely thought they witnessed an Ivory-bill; and also maybe some of them were right. However I save coming back to this fact: The critical universally accepted photos of life Ivory-bills in the U.S. Were taken an ext than 80 year ago, in Louisiana’s Singer street in 1938.

In the legendary forests of the Singer Tract, the birds were reliably found by lot of observers as late together 1944. Yet after that . . . No one could pin the types down anywhere. Asserted sightings trailed turn off gradually, with reports from Florida, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and also Arkansas being made also into this decade. Yet somehow none could be totally documented.

If the bird quiet exists, why has actually proof to be so elusive?


Ivory-billed Woodpecker at swarm in Louisiana"s Singer Tract, 1935. Photo: Arthur A. Allen/Public Domain

Some will certainly argue that, “With so plenty of reports, few of them need to be correct.” however I don’t think that applies to Ivory-bills any an ext than it does come Bigfoot or UFOs orthe proceeding existence that the Tasmanian tiger. The more unconfirmed reports there are, the more striking it becomes that none the them deserve to be confirmed.

I’ve heard theories that the species went v a rapid development in its behavior so that it now prevents humans and evades all attempts at photography. Yet that doesn’t do sense. In the American tropics, I’ve seen several varieties that room close relatives, consisting of Pale-billed, Crimson-crested, Magellanic, and powerful Woodpeckers; they room wary, but they’re no freakishly, supernaturally so. Neither was the Ivory-billed as soon as it to be still around. When Roger Tory Peterson saw the Singer Tract through his girlfriend Bayard Christy in 1942, it take it them a day and also a fifty percent to discover two Ivory-bills, yet then they to be able to follow and observe castle for nearly an hour. In other words, these woodpeckers behaved like normal birds. It’s not plausible that the varieties would have actually abruptly advanced into an invisible creature so quickly afterward.

Others allude out the the Ivory-bill was well-known to be somewhat nomadic, moving approximately in response to huge outbreaks of certain beetle larvae, and also that this might make the harder to pen them down in a single location. This is true. However if some people were quiet hanging on, and also moving approximately the countryside, it would increase the chance that birders would see them. There are a the majority of birders in ~ the Ivory-bill’s historic range—now an ext than ever before before, in fact. Look atan eBird mapfor Pileated Woodpecker, another huge and occasionally wary species, and you’ll check out sightings blanketing the southeastern states. There really aren’t any huge gaps, other than in areas of considerable farmland. The allude isn’t the Pileateds space everywhere—the suggest is thatbirdersare everywhere. It’s not plausible that the bigger, flashier Ivory-bill can slip with these areas unnoticed.


If i get it Peterson had brought one the our contemporary compact superzoom cameras into the Singer street in 1942, he positively can have acquired frame-filling shots. Today, together numbers that birders proceed to increase, much more and much more of us room carrying cameras around. And also there are legions of people out in the southerly woods—hikers, turkey hunters, kayakers, etc.—who don’t self-identify together birders, yet who would certainly whip out their cell phones and take a video clip if they witnessed a black-and-white woodpecker the dimension of a beagle.

Year after ~ year, we watch no clean photos or videos, us hear no convincing, diagnostic recordings. That course, it’s difficult to prove that the bird is gone—you can’t prove an lack of something—but after ~ a while, you can start to make reasonable assumptions. In an target analysis, I would certainly say that, yes, I think the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extinct.

What if I’m wrong, though?

What if someone shows up tomorrow through clear and current photos, with unambiguous video clip of a living Ivory-bill? I’ll tell friend this: I would certainly be dazzling to be proven wrong. I would be overjoyed. I would certainly dance in the streets. Ns wouldn’t even care around going to see the bird myself; simply knowing the still lived would certainly make the the happiest day of my life.

That’s why i answered the question “yes and also no.” my head states that the types is extinct, but my love won’t expropriate that. In mine dreams, the huge woodpeckers are still the end there, flying along part backwater swamp the the birders haven’t discovered. They’re still hitching their method up substantial trunks of ancient trees, tho greeting the dawn v strident cries and also loud double-rap drumming that echoes through woodlands where no human beings are listening. It doesn’t do sense, yet at part level I think it, and also I will for as long as ns live.

Q: i swear I can tell my local male Baltimore Orioles apart just by their songs, which all seem come different.Am ns fooling myself?

KK: not at all; that’s a great observation.

The song of masculine Baltimore Orioles room as well-off as their colors: a collection of throaty, full-toned whistles. The song may include high notes, short notes, single notes, twin notes, in a sluggish or rapid pattern, facets given singly or in repetition. The variations seem endless. Unlike many birds, in which the differences among the songs of separation, personal, instance males room subtle and hard come detect without recording and also analysis, the highly distinctive song of each male Baltimore are evident to anyone who listens closely. Every May, when moving orioles arrive near my home in northern Ohio, ns take happiness in this element of the soundscape. Although it would certainly be difficult to prove without having birds personally marked, I think I have identified particular males returning to the area in more than one year, simply on the communication of their distinct songs.

Ornithologist Les Beletsky did a thorough study on Baltimore Oriole song in Michigan. He discovered that, indeed, many of the males in his study area might be readily separated by voice. All of them had much more than one track pattern apiece, but most that those were just slight variations on the individual’s simple song, with only a couple of elements included or switched, so the the overall song pattern of that male stayed recognizable.

Intriguingly, Beletsky discovered a few cases in i m sorry the males on immediately adjacent territories common some identical songs. This raises some questions: Why? If there were an benefit to having a distinctive song, why would certainly some neighbors pass that up that advantage? ~ above the various other hand, if there’s value in having comparable songs shared by surrounding males—as happens in many bird species—why carry out most neighborhood male Baltimore Orioles sound so different from each other?


Baltimore Oriole. Photo: Richard Rigterink/audioeditorfree.com Photography Awards

As much as ns know, those questions haven’t been addressed. Maybe these masculine orioles learn their songs, as with most other songbirds, but we don’t know details of how and also when the happens. A examine in Nebraska discovered that songs of first-year males different slightly from those the adult males, therefore evidently the orioles continue to develop their songs because that a while, quite than finding out a fixed set of songs at an early age.

Incidentally, female Baltimore Orioles also sing, although less frequently. Typically their song are fairly short, yet some are as lengthy and facility as those the males. An separation, personal, instance female frequently doesn’t re-publishing notes offered by she mate—she has actually her own songs. And also studies that Bullock’s Oriole, the western replacement because that the Baltimore, have suggested that females may sing an ext often than males of the species, in ~ least beforehand in the nesting season. Therefore in listening to orioles we should avoid assuming the we’re listening males; we need to look at the singers if we’re walking to understand what’s walking on.

Q: In a film based upon Kingbird Highway, that would beat the part of you?

KK: Well, I evaluate the question, yet many readers won’t know what that means. Kingbird Highway is a memoir i wrote. The wasn’t released until 1997, however it defines things the happened nearly a quarter-century earlier, in the 1970s. Together a rabidly extreme young birder, I spent the latter part of mine teenage years hitch-hiking about North America looking for brand-new birds. Hitch-hiking to be a common and easy method to take trip then and it was every I can afford, so ns went ago and forth throughout the continent the way, living as cheaply as I could, adhering to the migrations, learning around birds. In 1973, the year i turned 19, ns tried to collection a new “Big Year” document for north America. The record was only 626 species at the time, so attempting to break it by hitch-hiking wasn’t together outlandish as it would certainly seem now, when serious contenders have to shoot because that 800-plus.

It was a wonderful experience. I created a long account the it soon after the fact, yet then put that aside till the mid-1990s, after ~ I had written a pair of various other books. Then ns pulled out that old manuscript and also spent a couple of years rewriting it.

Revised in hindsight, mine teenaged adventures turned right into a coming-of-age story and also a snapshot of the burgeoning birding culture of the 1970s. To my surprise, houghton Mifflin company accepted the book and published it. To my more surprise, Kingbird Highway is still in print today, 23 years later. The nationwide Outdoor book Awards honored it as a “classic’ in 2017.


So the publication has been an ext successful 보다 I could have hoped, but would it work-related as a film? so far, few movies have concentrated on birding. The best known undoubtedly is The big Year, based on a publication of the same name created by note Obmascik. The book, a true story, was excellent. The film, a very fictionalized madcap comedy version, was okay. Knowing exactly how badly Hollywood deserve to screw points up, i think countless birders were relieved that the film wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

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A Birder’s overview to Everything, released in 2013, isn’t as extensively known, however I think it’s a far better film. I might be biased since I was a consultant on it, yet director and co-screenwriter plunder Meyer had the elegant to take it the subject issue seriously. There’s lot of of humor, the course, but Meyer’s respect because that birding, because that his characters, and also for the story shines through, make this a gem the a movie.

But earlier to the original question. If they made a movie from my Kingbird Highway, who would plot the part of me together a 19-year-old, and the various other teenage birders that are significant in the story? someone would need to play mine friend, the late Ted Parker, that at that time was currently developing right into one of the many brilliant field ornithologists ever. Perhaps that would be a task for an actor who has already played demanding roles, favor Dylan Minnette or Chandler Riggs. Who would have to play mark Robbins, another sharp field skilled in his teens, and also wildly expressive. Is Alex Wolff available? and we’d need someone smart and funny, with great comedic timing, to play Joel Greenberg, and also someone that conveys quiet strongness to to fill the role of Dave Hayward, a pair of good friends indigenous the birding step of the era.

And who would play my character? v a question prefer this, the sky’s the limit, right? ns nominate mock Kiszka, lead singer because that the tape Greta van Fleet, winners of the Grammy for ideal Rock Album in 2019. Mockery Kiszka is 24 now however he watch young for his age, for this reason he might be convincing in the function of a 19-year-old. As far as I recognize he hasn’t done any film exhilaration yet, but he studied exhilaration in school. He’s been affected by the writings of Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he often consists of themes that nature and peace in lyrics he writes for the band’s blasting hard-rock songs. See his stage existence as a singer, ns bet he’s a fine actor also, one who could breathe a lot of of meaning into the role of a rebellious teenaged birder trying to discover his location in the world.