Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ivory-bill Update

It appears that three biologists are about to publish a paper claiming that the bird seen in the Arkansas "Big Woods" was not an ivory-billed woodpecker, but instead was a leucistic (i.e., partial albino) pileated woodpecker. The argument centers around analysis of the film clip that was widely passed around the media and the internet, and which formed the basis for the Cornell team's proof of the bird's identity. The Cornell team is holding its ground and will publish a rebuttal.

For now, at least, I tend to trust the Cornell team's judgment. They were the ones on the scene who saw the bird(s), and appear to be well-regarded scientists and birders who would be risking their reputations if they were proved wrong. So I am sure that they were careful in their analysis. But there needs to be some arguments back and forth, and perhaps further exploration of the area.

Hedwig was the first among bloggers to break the news, but nuthatch has a longer analysis at the moment. I share the latter's concern that otherwise healthy skepticism regarding the sighting of the ivory-bill will be used as an excuse to halt habitat acquisition in the south. The current administration barely acts to help endangered and threatened species that are known to exist. And whether or not there really is a breeding population of ivory-bills in the "Big Woods," there are plenty of other species, such as the prothonotary warbler, that could use the habitat anyway. The public reaction will be key to what happens next.