Celebrity Woodpecker Still Extinct, Skeptics Say

March 16, 2006

Last April bird experts hailed the "resurrection" of the "extinct" ivory-billed woodpecker. But today some researchers announced that the big discovery is a case of mistaken identity.

These skeptics cast doubt on a video filmed in a swamp forest in Arkansas (map). The video was presented as proof that the ivory-bill, a bird thought extinct for 50 years, hadn't died out after all.

(Watch the original woodpecker "proof" video.)

The discovery was hailed as the ornithological equivalent of finding Elvis alive. Before the 2004 sighting, the last confirmed sighting of an ivory-bill had been in Louisiana in 1944.

Reopening the debate over the woodpecker's continued existence, a four-person team of researchers is questioning the identity of the bird shown in the blurry video footage.

The challenge appears tomorrow in Science, the journal that also announced the ivory-bill's rediscovery.

The team suggests that the video shows a pileated woodpecker, a smaller but similar-looking species that's relatively widespread in North America.

Led by renowned U.S. bird-watching field-guide author and illustrator David Sibley, the team reanalyzed the video. The footage had been shot in 2004 in the Big Woods region of Arkansas, a 550,000-acre (220,000-hectare) corridor of forested swamps in the Mississippi Delta.

Sibley and his colleagues say that the original researchers misinterpreted the posture of the bird in flight and at rest, and so also misread its size and black-and-white markings.

The skeptics say that the extensive white feathers that seem to be on the bird's back in the video—an ivory-bill characteristic—are actually the underside feathers of a pileated woodpecker's wings.

Based on this interpretation, aspects of the bird's wing patterns are inconsistent with an ivory-bill, the researchers add.

They also say there is not enough data to support the original researchers' claim that they could tell an ivory-bill from a pileated based on the way the bird flies.

Continued on Next Page >>


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