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The mystery continues on the ivory-billed woodpecker

There are people who believe the existence of animals that never lived. Two such fairytale creatures that readily come to mind are the so-called Bigfoot (aka Yeti or the abominable snowman), as well as the Loch Ness monster.

Yet there are many species of wildlife that did exist that no longer are among us today. Sadly, it's a long list of extinct animals—passenger pigeon, dodo bird, great auk, West African black rhinoceros, Caribbean monk seal and the Pyrenean ibex are just some of the more recent extinct animals.

How about the ivory-billed woodpecker? Once abundant in southern United States with subspecies existing in Cuba, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology declares the species as "probably" extinct today.

But some people believe that the giant woodpecker still exists. And maybe they're right. Maybe the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct after all.

In April 2005 a group of wildlife scientists, as told by several news sources, reported observing several "firm" sightings of an ivory-billed woodpecker(s) in central Arkansas. The story created a lot of excitement, especially for people holding out hope that the species was not extinct after all.

The "re-discovery" of the ivory-billed woodpecker was arguably the biggest story in decades of all things ornithological. And since this time, other observations have occurred, but few have been corroborated.

However, an article that appeared in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America titled "Putative audio recordings of the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis)," appears to authenticate the existence of the long-believed extinct species ("putative," being a key word in the title!).

Dr. Michael Collins, a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory scientist and birder, published the article based on his video footage and the videos' audio recordings of a bird or birds that he video-taped in Louisiana near Pearl River during five years of field research work that he conducted.

According to the article,Collins recorded 10 observations of the species, including hearing distinctive vocalizations unique only to ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Before this, the last authenticated sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the United States occurred about 74 years ago (1944) in Louisiana. Later observations were documented in Cuba in 1987 and 1988. Yet throughout the years since the last sighting of this giant bird, many observations of ivory-billed woodpeckers were reported but were never confirmed.

But that all changed in 2005 with the announcement of the potentially good news, plus Collins' sightings and publication, and again, just a year ago in January 2017, another study of Collins was published in the open-access journal Heliyon that claims ivory-billed woodpeckers persist in Louisiana and Florida swamps yet today.

Collins remains steadfast in his belief that despite the lack of irrefutable photographic evidence of the bird's existence, he points out that the mere possibility that ivory-billed woodpeckers could exist warrants the protection of the forested habitats the species are thought to prefer. This alone—the protection of these particular swamp forests—is a worthy cause no matter the existence or not of the bird.

Without question, the purported rediscovery and recent published study of the ivory-billed woodpecker is exciting. The possibility that these enormous woodpeckers persist despite the overwhelming lack of clear evidence that prove the species hasn't perished, many people worldwide strongly believe that ivory-billed woodpeckers are still here.

As such, to learn that these believers are correct and that most everyone else is wrong is indeed just cause for celebration. The alleged rediscovery of this special bird has renewed interest in the ivory-billed woodpecker while perhaps opening doors for further protection of the species preferred habitat as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com.