On January 19, 2007, I had an extended encounter with a pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Choctawhatchee River in Florida and obtained video footage of several events that can only be explained in terms of that species. I was following up on a report of a pair the previous day along with several members of Geoff Hill’s search team. The encounter began at 7:25 a.m. as I kayaked around a bend in a small bayou and saw two large birds repeatedly making spectacular swooping flights in the distant treetops. This behavior is consistent with historical accounts of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. A high-definition video camera was mounted on the kayak paddles. Due to blockage in the bayou, it was not possible to move closer in the kayak. I decided to remain in the kayak rather than risk flushing the birds (as happened when the observer attempted to approach the birds the previous day). I laid the paddle-cam setup in my lap with the camera aimed in the direction of the birds while watching the movements of the birds. During one of the flights, I had a good view through binoculars of the dorsal surface of the right wing. The wing was fixed during the swoop, and a white trailing edge that extended nearly to the tip of the wing was clearly seen. Ivory-billed Woodpecker is the only candidate species with this pattern on the wings. The camera captured several events involving highly unusual flights and other behaviors that are consistent with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker but do not seem to be consistent with any other candidate species. Field marks consistent with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker appear in some of the events. The 2007 video is discussed below and in this lecture.

The encounter lasted for more than 25 minutes, and the camera captured the following events within a nearly continuous stream of video (a brief interruption to report the sighting by radio preceded the final event) while it was kept aimed in the same general direction:
The events from the video are presented in temporal order below. The context version of the video (which contains the first 13 minutes in reduced resolution) documents me repeatedly maneuvering the kayak to remain in an observation position and then deliberately aiming the camera after getting out of the kayak. I was observing with binoculars, and the camera occasionally rotated forward and pointed down into the kayak. At 5:21 in the context movie, I can be heard whispering to three deer in an attempt to prevent them from getting spooked and scaring off the birds. After 7:20, they can be seen moving toward the area where the birds had been swooping around in the treetops. There were two Pileated Woodpeckers in the area that morning. One of them can be heard calling at 8:20. The camera captured dialogue with Bob O’Brien, one of several members of the search team in the Choctawhatchee that fanned out around the area of the report from the previous day. He kayaked along the same bayou and arrived 16:22 into the video. In these verbal field notes, I told Bob about the swooping behavior, the white trailing edge, and the fact that there was more than one bird (two birds appear simultaneously in part of the video).

At 2:02, there was a swooping takeoff (movie plays at half speed). The beginning of the takeoff appears in the upper right of the picture. The bird is hidden behind vegetation during part of the swoop, but it comes back into view in the lower left of the picture. When the bird briefly comes back into view further to the left (movie plays at half speed), it is still moving at high speed and the underwings appear white in the reflection from the water, which is consistent with Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The swooping takeoff and long horizontal glide are consistent with Audubon’s account. The image above is a full frame of the video from which these clips were cropped. This image shows the blockage in the bayou that prevented me from moving closer in the kayak. The birds were far behind the trees along the bayou in the foreground. The black dots show points at which the bird was visible in the video during the swoop.

At 3:18, there were two successive swoops (movie plays at half speed). The image above is a full frame of the video from which this clip was cropped. As indicated in the image, an upswoop from the right side of the picture is followed by a downslope to the left side of the picture. The bird is far in the background and only appears at a few points along each path, but it is clear that there are two swooping events.

Between 5:10 and 5:36, events that involved two birds appeared in the red boxes in the image above. At 5:10, there was a swooping landing in which the bird ascends nearly vertically. As discussed here, the body is black (including the belly) and the underside of the right wing is mostly white. The long vertical ascent is not consistent with any other candidate species. When the bird flies to the right (movie plays at half speed) at 5:35, it appears to have a black body and lots of white on the wings. At 5:36, there was a level takeoff from behind a tree. It is clearly a large bird on the basis of its size relative to the substantial, broken-off tree. The deep and rapid flaps are very unusual for a large bird and are not consistent with any other candidate species, but they are consistent with historical accounts of takeoffs of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and with the deep and rapid flaps of the closely-related Imperial Woodpecker at takeoff. In this movie (brightness adjusted to make the wings easier to see), the takeoff in the video is compared with takeoffs of Pileated Woodpeckers and an Imperial Woodpecker (shown here with permission from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology). The deep and rapid flaps of the bird in the video are quite different from the flaps of the Pileated Woodpeckers, which take off with a much lower flap rate in non-escape flights, but remarkably similar to the deep and rapid flaps of the Imperial Woodpecker. At 5:44, there was a vertically ascending landing that could be the bird that took off with deep and rapid flaps. At 5:13, a bird hopped behind (or into) the tree where the takeoff occurred 23 seconds later. The way the bird raised its head just before the hop (perhaps to judge distance) and the hop itself suggest that it may have entered a cavity. In this part of the video, both birds (movie plays at half speed) appear simultaneously, one in the lower right and the other in the upper left.

At about 13:00, I got out of the kayak and set the paddle-cam down but kept it aimed in the direction of the birds. The camera picked up events in the red boxes in the image above. At 15:21, there was a vertically ascending landing in which the underwings appear mostly white near the end. As discussed here, the bird appears to rotate about 90 degrees about its main axis during the ascent. Starting at 17:37, the camera captured this footage of a woodpecker flying across an opening in the vegetation, climbing upward, moving to the right, moving back to the left, delivering a blow, taking off, and swooping upward. The audio contains a loud knock that is slightly out of synch with the blow, apparently due to the distance to the bird. During the flight across the opening, the body appears to be dark black and the dorsal surfaces of the wings show a lot of white. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker has a habit of repeatedly rotating its body from side to side as can be seen in historical footage in this excerpt from a presentation by John Fitzpatrick (shown here with permission from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology). As discussed here, the bird in the video makes similar motions just after moving to the right. Just before delivering the blow, the bird flails its wings several times (apparently for balance) similarly to how the Imperial Woodpecker flails its wings in the 1956 film. There is a red glow about the head when the bird is climbing and after it moves to the right (movies play at half speed). The red is visible in the raw footage, but the color has been enhanced to make it easier to see. This feature does not increase the strength of the evidence, but it is interesting that it appears to be a male Ivory-billed Woodpecker. In this movie, the bird delivers the blow, takes off into an upward swooping flight (yet another remarkable flight maneuver), and shows lots of white on the dorsal surfaces of the wings (consistent with Ivory-billed Woodpecker). Based on the delay between when the blow is visible and audible, the distance to the bird appears to be on the order of 100 meters. The loud knock is easy to hear with good speakers at high volume in a quiet room, and it was apparently a powerful blow. There appears to be white on the belly when the bird delivers the blow, but it can be seen that this is light-colored vegetation in the foreground by noting how the dark body emerges from behind the vegetation when the bird starts moving to the right just after the climb.

At about 20:20, I got back in the kayak. At 24:37 into the video (not counting a brief interval after 24:34, when the camera was turned off while the sighting was reported by radio), there was a swooping flight in the red box in the image above. The takeoff (movie plays at half speed) is similar to the takeoff at 2:02. The bird appears to change direction just after a noise (something apparently hit the kayak). The flight path extends below the field of view, but the bird reappears in the lower left of the red box in a vertically ascending landing that is similar to the landings at 3:18, 5:10, 5:44, and 15:21. As in the landing at 15:21, the bird apparently rotated about its main axis while ascending. It is difficult to resolve details against the bright background, but there are several ventral features consistent with Ivory-billed Woodpecker, including the color of the belly and underwings, the shape of the wings, and the length of the tail. When the bird appears climbing after the landing (movie plays at quarter speed), there are several flashes of white that are consistent with the white triangular patch on the folded wings of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.