Friday, March 17, 2006

Ivory-billed woodpecker extinct after all?

I interrupt the regularly scheduled count here to bring you a bit of bad news: it appears the Ivory billed may be extinct after all. And this comes from none other than my main thug, David Sibley himself:
"The whole thing is sad," says the team's leader David Sibley, a bird illustrator from Massachusetts. "I wish we were reporting something different. But it is very important for the truth to be out there."

Sibley's team notes that the video shows the bird with a black edge to its wing, characteristic of a pileated woodpecker. Ivory-billed woodpeckers have white wing edges.
Yet all is not lost just yet:
"There is black there, but I think it is a shadow or video artefact," says John Fitzpatrick, an ornithologist at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, who led the project that captured the video.

And after analysing dozens of videos of pileated woodpeckers in flight, Fitzpatrick says that his team is sure that their videotaped bird, seen launching off a tree in woods near the Mississippi River, is not a pileated woodpecker. The critics ignore evidence that the bird is an ivory-billed woodpecker, says Fitzpatrick, and their analysis of woodpecker flight "is just false".
This bird story is still ongoing, and I hope (hope, hope!) that I can eventually add an Ivory-billed to my tally.


At 7:09 AM, John Callender said...

Don't give up hope. Sibley, for all his awesomeness as an obsessive birder and illustrator, seems to me to be giving evidence of the too-common attitude of some experts: If I didn't see it, it doesn't exist.

His analysis of the Luneau video is pretty sketchy. He ignores several points made by the Fitzpatrick team, and mispresents some others. And don't forget: It's not just the Luneau video. It's a series of eyewitness observations that were made by credible experts, and were not ambiguous. Yes, they didn't get photographs when they saw the bird. But after reading Tim Gallagher's book, The Grail Bird, I'm convinced they did see the bird.

You can go wrong by being too credulous, it's true. But you can just as easily go wrong by being too skeptical. That's what Sibley's doing here.


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