Monday, March 12, 2007

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Coverage

There is some interesting coverage of the ivory-billed woodpecker question in the latest issue of Birding, the ABA's bimonthly magazine. Among them is an historical look at the end of the Singer Tract population, the last ivory-billed woodpeckers to be reported and photographed without controversy. The article has interviews with some of the last living people to see the birds in that forest and old photographs from the area. It is available free online, here. The logging of the Singer Tract occurred about three decades short of the passage of the Endangered Species Act. One would hope that with the protection of that law, similar situations would not arise again.

Also, see The Great Debate, the results of a survey on perceptions of the evidence for ivory-billed woodpeckers. I participated in the survey, as did many others. The survey was probably not representative of birders as a whole. It suffers from the usual online survey problems of self selection. In addition, the survey was announced mainly through birding email lists and blogs. In the survey group, 83% were male, 58% had at least attended graduate school, and 97% considered themselves to have moderate or high level identification skills. Here are the results for whether the ivory-billed woodpecker exists:

Definitely does not exist: 4%
Probably does not exist: 27%
Possibly exists: 27%
Probably exists: 23%
Definitely exists: 21%
I forget how I answered the survey in September. My answer now would waver somewhere between a possibly and a probably exists. I am surprised that the "definitely does not exist" option received the fewest votes by far since the skeptical voices in the bird blogosphere have been quite loud, and the survey got a lot of promotion from them.