[Tweeters] Fwd: 3 Biologists Question Evidence in Sighting of
dawnsdog at rainierconnect.com
Wed Jul 20 20:49:34 PDT 2005
in case you cannot access the NY times here is the article and also
Devorah's blog url:
3 Biologists Question Evidence in Sighting of Rare Woodpecker
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Published: July 21, 2005
Three biologists are questioning the evidence used by a team of bird experts
who made the electrifying claim in April that they had sighted an
ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird presumed to have vanished from the United
States more than 60 years ago, in the swampy forests of southeast Arkansas.
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A sketch from 2004 of what was believed to be an ivory-billed woodpecker.
If the challenge holds up, it would undermine not only a scientific
triumph - the rediscovery of a resplendent bird that had been exhaustively
sought for years - but also significant new conservation expenditures in the
The paper questioning the discovery has been provisionally accepted by a
peer-reviewed journal, which could post the analysis online within a few
weeks. But the paper will be accompanied by a fierce rebuttal by the team
that announced the discovery, and a response to that rebuttal by the
The expected publication of the paper and the rebuttal was confirmed in
interviews and e-mail exchanges with two authors of the challenge, Richard
O. Prum and Mark B. Robbins, ornithologists at Yale and the University of
Kansas, as well as with two members of the team that reported finding the
The third author of the new paper is Jerome A. Jackson, a zoologist at
Florida Gulf Coast University and the author of the book, "In Search of the
Ivory-Billed Woodpecker," published in 2004.
"In my opinion," Mr. Jackson wrote in an e-mail message on Wednesday, "the
data presented thus far do no more than suggest the possibility of the
presence of an ivory-billed woodpecker. I am most certainly not saying that
ivory-billed woodpeckers are not out there. I truly hope that the birds do
exist in Arkansas or elsewhere and have been championing this idea for a
Both groups of scientists declined to name the journal or to discuss the
details of the challenge and the response until they were published.
But they made it clear that the debate revolves around four seconds of fuzzy
videotape that, by chance, captured a bird with sweeping white-and-black
wings as it darted from its perch on the far side of a tupelo tree in April
2004 and flicked over swampy waters before vanishing in the trees 11 wing
That video clip was just one piece in a pile of drawings, recordings and
other evidence collected in more than a year of searching and deploying
cameras and listening devices across the vast swampy reaches of the Cache
River National Wildlife Refuge.
Altogether, the original research team, led by scientists from Cornell
University and the Nature Conservancy, compiled seven sightings, including
the video, as well as recordings of a "double knock" sound typical of the
But only the video was potentially solid enough to confirm for the wider
ornithological community the existence of the bird, the authors said in
various statements at the time.
Everyone agrees that the bird that appears on the tape is either an
ivory-billed woodpecker or a pileated woodpecker, a slightly smaller bird
that is relatively common. Both species have a mix of white and black
plumage. However, the ivory-billed woodpecker has a white trailing edge to
its wings while the pileated woodpecker has a black trailing edge.
The team that conducted the original search for the bird ran extensive
tests, including recreating the scene captured in video using flapping,
hand-held models of the two types of woodpecker. They concluded that the
plumage patterns seen in the grainy image could only be that of the
The authors of the new paper disagree.
Only extended scientific discussion - or new pictures of the bird from
additional searches - will determine whose view will prevail. Another
intensive scientific search of the region is scheduled to begin in November,
Cornell officials said.
"The people who originally announced this thoroughly believe they got an
ivory-billed woodpecker," Dr. Robbins said in an interview. Determining if a
species has crossed the threshold of extinction often requires decades of
observation to ensure that no stray individuals have found a reclusive
Supposedly extinct species have been rediscovered with some frequency over
the last century. One famed example is the coelacanth, a huge fish known
only from fossils for generations but then caught by African anglers.
In the case of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a magnificent bird with a
30-inch wingspan and a red crest, determining that it has not become extinct
has proved equally daunting. Individual birds were widely dispersed, and the
woodpecker shared habits and habitat with the pileated woodpecker.
Van Remsen of Louisiana State University, an expert on the woodpecker and a
member of the team that reported finding the ivory-billed species, said he
remained confident of the discovery.
"We can counter everything," he said. "We stick to our guns."
The announcement of the bird's apparent discovery came on April 28, when the
scientists' findings were published in the online version of the journal
The announcement thrilled conservationists, who saw the bird as the perfect
symbol around which to build an invigorated protection plan for woodland
habitat in the Southeast, which harbors a rich array of wildlife and plants.
The Bush administration used the reported sightings in Arkansas to promote
its "cooperative conservation" philosophy. The day the rediscovery was
publicized, the administration announced a variety of initiatives, including
a plan to pay more than $13 million to landowners within the region's
floodplains who plant and maintain forests.
John W. Fitzpatrick, the co-leader of the search for the bird and director
of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, said it was normal for
scientists to disagree about evidence of this sort, especially because in
this case the video in question was "pretty crummy."
But he said that extensive analysis was done and redone to eliminate the
possibility that the bird was a pileated woodpecker.
Dr. Fitzpatrick added that there was "significant additional evidence right
now" that would be published in coming months.
He declined to comment on the challengers' assertions, saying any discussion
could jeopardize publication of the exchange of papers on the video.
mailto:dawnsdog at rainierconnect.com
If you were arrested for being kind, would there be enough evidence to
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