Ivory-Bill "Knock-Knock" Puts Joke on Skeptics

August 4, 2005

Now even the skeptics agree that the ivory-billed woodpecker lives. The proof? Audio recordings of the birds' telltale knocking that suggest there are at least two ivory-bills living in an area of Arkansas swamp forest.

The new evidence comes some three months after researchers announced to the world that an ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird thought extinct for 50 years, had been seen in the Big Woods region of Arkansas.

The rediscovery of (Campephilus principalis) was hailed as the birding-world equivalent of finding Elvis alive.

The original identification rested on analysis of brief and blurry video footage of an ivory-bill recorded last year.

Last month three ornithologists said they planned to challenge the video evidence, arguing that the bird shown was actually a pileated woodpecker, a much smaller but otherwise similar-looking species.

This week, however, the experts made an about-face after listening to the new recordings. Richard Prum, a Yale University ornithologist who led the skeptics, said the tapes are conclusive.

"We were very skeptical of the first published reports and thought that the previous data were not sufficient to support this startling conclusion," he said. "But the thrilling new sound recordings provide clear and convincing evidence that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct."

Double Raps

Prum says the unpublished recordings include a series of distinctive "kent" call notes and an exchange of telltale "double raps" between two individual ivory-bills.

Fellow former skeptic Mark Robbins, of the University of Kansas, says the rapping sounds are similar to those made by ivory-bill relatives native to Central and South America.

The sounds were recorded in January in Arkansas's White River National Wildlife Refuge and Cache River Refuge, according to Scott Simon, director of the Nature Conservancy in the state.

Both refuges lie in the Big Woods region, a 550,000-acre (220,000-hectare) corridor of forested swamps and floodplain in the Mississippi Delta.

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