for National Geographic News
The elusive ivory-billed woodpecker may be living in Florida, according to new evidence.
The birds, long believed extinct, may survive along the Choctawhatchee River in the state's panhandle, scientists report today in the online scientific journal Avian Conservation and Ecology (map of Florida).
Geoff Hill, a biologist at Alabama's Auburn University, and a team of researchers say they found the Florida birds on a kayak trip in May 2005.
The research trip came just after the news broke that the ivory-bill had been reported in the Big Woods region of eastern Arkansas.
The Arkansas sighting was later challenged by ornithologists, who argued that it was impossible to rule out the more common pileated woodpecker.
Because the last confirmed sighting of an ivory-bill was in Louisiana in 1944, the Arkansas "discovery" was hailed at the time as the ornithological equivalent of finding Elvis alive, and the event catapulted the birds to celebrity status.
Hill's first encounter with the bird was quite unexpected.
"We were inspired by the reports from Arkansas," he said, "but we didn't want to follow the crowd, so we decided to search some areas closer to Auburn."
Initially his goal was to follow up on a report phoned in ten years earlier by someone who thought he'd seen one of the birds on Alabama's Pea River.
A day kayaking that river revealed disappointingly little in the way of potential ivory-bill habitat, so his team decided to shift to the Choctawhatchee.
That river, he says, is little known among ornithologists.
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