Was “extinct” woodpecker sighting real?
and World Science staff
Scientists are debating whether a 2004 video—thought to show a woodpecker long considered extinct—really features the woodpecker, a sort of Holy Grail among American bird enthusiasts.
Researchers presented the video last year to back up reported sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Big Woods of Arkansas.
But in a “Technical Comment” published in the March 17 issue of the research journal Science, a team including noted U.S. bird author and painter David Sibley argued that the video really shows a so-called pileated woodpecker.
They claimed the original research team misinterpreted the posture of the bird in flight and at rest, and as a result misinterpreted its size and plumage pattern.
The extensive whiteness visible during flight, cited in favor of the ivory-billed woodpecker interpretation, could be the underside of the pileated woodpecker’s wings, they added, and other aspects of the wing pattern are inconsistent with ivory-billed woodpeckers.
The team also claimed the video quality is inadequate to clearly see white stripes along the back characteristic of the ivory-billed woodpecker. And they called the available data on wingspan and flight style insufficient to tell apart the species.
The researchers who reported the original finding shot back in a “Technical Response,” also published in the journal.
The authors, John Fitzpatrick and colleagues at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., argued that their interpretation of the bird’s launch posture is more accurate than that of Sibley and colleagues. This in turn supports their calculation of the extent of white plumage, they argued.
They added that the angle of view shows white plumage on the wing tops that the pileated woodpecker lacks, and that a black trailing edge on the underwing, characteristic of the pileated, is absent in the video.
They claimed to have detected white stripes on the back in several frames, and argued that available data on wingspan and flight style also favor the ivory-billed woodpecker interpretation.
Despite their disagreements, both groups agreed on the need for more conservation efforts that would help the beleaguered, if not extinct, bird.
* * *
Send us a comment
on this story, or send
it to a friend