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Was Woody an Ivory?

Rare woodpecker's identity under scrutiny…

The authenticity of recent sightings of one of the world's most enigmatic birds has been called into question by a group of ornithologists in a paper submitted for publication in the online science journal PLoS Biology. In April 2005 a team of scientists led by John Fitzpatrick from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology announced in the journal Science that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis had been rediscovered in Arkansas, USA. The species was widely thought to be extinct in the US, with no confirmed sightings there since 1944, and the best hope of its continued existence being focused on a remote part of Cuba. In February 2004, a chance encounter in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas, had changed that. Over the next 14 months, teams of experienced observers made six further sightings, all within three kilometres of one another. Brief but crucial video footage was obtained that, despite technical imperfections, seemed to show a number of diagnostic features allowing the researchers to confirm the species’ identity. However, another team led by Richard Prum of Yale University speculate that the bird in question is the similar, but much commoner, Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus. "The key thing now is to gather incontrovertible evidence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s presence in Arkansas. Although the initial sightings seemed highly credible, it’s clear that further proof that this magnificent species has survived in the US would be of enormous benefit." — Dr Stuart Butchart, Global Species Programme Coordinator, BirdLife Alison Stattersfield, BirdLife’s Head of Science went on to add, “There are many species on the edge of extinction. Any evidence of their continuing existence must be followed up with appropriate conservation efforts. In the 1940s, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were lost from their last-known stronghold in Louisiana because of logging. In the case of the Arkansas sightings it is vital that the possibility that the woodpecker still survives should be taken very seriously – even though the supporting evidence of the birds’ presence is not as good as the ornithological community might wish.”"A finding of this magnitude will certainly be subject to thorough review by the scientific community, as it should be in the name of good science. National Audubon Society believes that the evidence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's presence in eastern Arkansas is very strong, and we support all efforts to preserve and protect the floodplain forests of the Southeast, which are critical habitat for many species of birds." — National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the US)

4th July 2014