Rediscovered Woodpecker Still Extinct? Experts Dispute Find

July 26, 2005

When experts announced last April that an ivory-billed woodpecker was living in Arkansas, the discovery was hailed as the birding-world equivalent of finding Elvis alive.

So perhaps it isn't surprising that the fabled bird's rediscovery, 60 years after the last confirmed sighting, is now being questioned. After all, few would expect reports that Elvis is alive and well to go unchallenged, however credible the source.

A trio of skeptics is voicing doubts over the identification of an ivory-bill. Among them is Jerome A. Jackson, a zoologist at Florida Gulf Coast University and the author of the book In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.

Last week Jackson told the New York Times that the evidence presented earlier this year in the journal Science suggests only "the possibility" of the presence of an ivory-bill in the swampy Big Woods region of eastern Arkansans.

The 550,000-acre (220,000-hectare) corridor of forested swamps and floodplain drains into the Mississippi River watershed.

The New York Times report notwithstanding, experts on both sides of the ornithological debate have declined to discuss details of the challenge until they are published in an as-yet-unnamed scientific journal. Publication is expected within the next month.

The last confirmed report of the black-and-white woodpecker occurred in 1944 in Louisiana. Since then the ivory-bill has been seen as the holy grail for U.S. birders.

Many experts believed the species had gone extinct after extensive logging of its critical habitat of mature virgin forests in the southeastern United States.

Video Footage

In April researchers made the announcement that the ivory-bill had been rediscovered. (See "'Extinct' Woodpecker Found in Arkansas, Experts Say.") They founded their claim on exhaustive analysis of grainy video footage of a woodpecker taken last year.

The researchers, led by John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, also reported seven other sightings in the area.

But three experts, led by Richard Prum of Yale University, are now reportedly challenging that claim using the same video evidence. The trio are said to argue that the bird shown is actually a pileated woodpecker, a much smaller but otherwise similar-looking species.

Continued on Next Page >>


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