A new system for searching for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker relies on a camera designed to look for the bird. Software in development should also lessen the human need for painstakingly searching the images captured.
Starting in 2004, the ivory-billed woodpecker, long thought to be extinct, has been sighted several times in the bayous of eastern Arkansas. But the only evidence of the bird so far has been a blurry, four-second video. Not enough to convince skeptics that the woodpecker indeed still exists. Now scientists at UC Berkeley and Texas A&M are hoping that a robotic camera system can help capture this elusive prey on film. They installed a pair of cameras in Arkansas’s Cash River National Wildlife Refuge. The cameras scan a patch of sky for things that look like ivorybills, and filters out the rest. The scientists described the system last week at the annual AAAS meeting in San Francisco. The big advantage of the robo-camera is that it spares human birdwatchers from having to stay outside for hours at a time. Even with the new system, the video footage needs to be reviewed by human eyes to identify species. But the scientists hope to eventually develop software to do that automatically. So far the cameras have shot footage of several birds, but no ivory-billed woodpeckers yet.