I was introduced this week to Project Coyote, an ongoing research effort to confirm the existence of Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Louisiana (or on earth, if you prefer). The team has found feeding sign, recorded double-knocks, claimed visual encounters, and obtained trailcam photos, all of which they interpret as suggestive that Ivorybills still fly freely at their study site.
Of course, suggestive is in the eye of the beholder: I see some items on the website that are very difficult to separate from other more likely explanations and others that strike me as intriguing. (This page of photos would be a great place to start if you’d like to see for yourself.) Of all of the information Project Coyote presents, I am most interested in a few of their photographs of woodpecker feeding sign, especially this smaller tree that looks like something went at it with with a chisel or small hatchet. I have seen other trees scaled like many of the photos on their website, but I’ve never seen anything like the sign on that tree. If I had I would have photographed it because it’s quite distinctive.
Here’s an example. In March of 2012, I took a walk and came upon some trees here in central Oklahoma that had been very heavily worked by local woodpeckers in search of, presumably, some kind of tasty wood-boring insect larvae. In forests in this area, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpecker are abundant; Northern Flicker is pretty common in winter and as migrants, with a few sticking around to breed; Hairy and Pileated are here but uncommon; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker winters with us; and Red-headed Woodpecker is very patchy in distribution, with none in this immediate vicinity at that time. Given the size of the work on these trees, I can only assume that it was one (or more) of the larger species responsible, i.e., Pileated, Hairy, Red-bellied. Flickers are possible I suppose, but they tend to forage on the ground much more often than I’ve seen them working trees.
My objective in sharing these photos is simply to illustrate for the Project Coyote team an unusual example of woodpecker excavation that I’m 100% confident was NOT from Ivory-billed Woodpecker. If these photos provide information that can be applied to their interpretations, great. Otherwise, I wish them well in their search. Though I’m not optimistic about it, I certainly hope that they are successful in finding and confirming the continued existence of the magnificent Ivory-billed Woodpecker.