As of 1/23/06, if you asked me "What's your confidence level that there was a living Ivory-bill in Arkansas in 2004?", I'd say "less than 1%".
I thought I'd summarize some of this blog's main points in one page, in a question (black font) and answer (red font) format. As always, please click on the links to drill down for more information.
What do you think, in a nutshell?
I think it's likely that the observers were fooled by fleeting glimpses of abnormal (or normal) Pileateds (both were seen in the area); I think the video almost certainly shows a normal Pileated (and the distant perched "Ivory-bill" is likely a branch stub); as for the audio, I think the double-knocks were quite likely produced by other woodpeckers, and I think the kents are very likely to be Blue Jays.
How do you know that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extinct?
I don't know that. I think it is likely to be extinct, but I think it is possible that it still lives.
Who has publicly expressed skepticism of Cornell's evidence?
The list of public skeptics includes bird book authors David Sibley and Kenn Kaufman, Jerome Jackson ("world's foremost expert on the ivory-billed woodpecker"), ornithologists Richard Prum, Mark Robbins, Michael Patten, A. Nemesio, and M. Rodrigues; and Gary Graves, the Smithsonian Institution's curator of birds.
The American Birding Association Checklist committee has not changed the Ivory-bill's status from "extinct"; they are still waiting for "unequivocal proof that the species still exists".
Why are you skeptical of the current video, sighting, and audio evidence?
I think the flying bird in the video is probably a normal Pileated Woodpecker. My detailed video analysis is here. I think the distant, perched "Ivory-bill" is probably just some out-of-focus vegetation, most likely a branch stub.
I think that the seven "robust sightings" were almost certainly mis-IDs--a Pileated with some extra white on one wing could cause confusion. It's troublesome that of five key fieldmarks separating Ivory-bill from Pileated, only one (trailing white wing edges) was reported. These four key fieldmarks weren't reported --the Ivory-bill's white dorsal stripes, the white neck stripe ending before the bill, the longitudinal black stripe on the white wing underside, or the pale bill itself.
I think it's very unlikely that Ivory-bills produced any of the recorded sounds. The double-knocks could easily have been Pileateds, other woodpeckers, or American Crows, and the "kents" were probably produced by Blue Jays.
What other points make you a skeptic?
--the sightings occurred in an area where several abnormal Pileateds were seen. Brief glimpses of such a bird could easily result in mistaken identifications.
--It's very troubling to me that the "Ivory-bill" was glimpsed maybe 8-18 times in a small area, yet never clearly photographed. When last studied 60+ years ago, the bird was conspicuous, at least in certain seasons, and not particularly wary. If it was really there, it should have been seen clearly and well photographed long before now.
--no "kent" vocalizations were reported during encounters.
--no one noted the loud wing noise of an IBWO
--the bird was present in marginal IBWO habitat (it's good Pileated habitat)
--no hard evidence (a feather or an eggshell, for example) has been found
In your view, what is the biggest logical error made by "the believers"?
In my opinion, their most common error is the assumption that lots of weak evidence can be combined to form strong evidence. I've written more on that here.
Is there any form of proof that would satisfy you?
Yes. My standard is David Sibley's: "Redundancy. Repeated sightings by independent observers of birds really well seen." This type of proof was routinely gathered back in the '30s and '40s. You can read more here.
Who are you? Do you have an "axe to grind"?
I'm an avid Minnesota birder with many years of experience. I've birded in Arkansas, and I've successfully searched for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker there.
For over two months after the April rediscovery announcement, I was a "believer" myself. I hadn't looked at the evidence, and I just assumed that Cornell had rock-solid proof. When I read that David Sibley had expressed some skepticism, I was inspired to examine the evidence for myself.
I'm not an ornithologist--like David Luneau, I have an MS degree in electrical engineering. There's no axe--I'm just trying to understand the truth about this situation.
I want to believe that the Ivory-bill lives, but I don't want to believe that if it's not true. If the definitive photographic proof ever comes, I would then be in favor of launching into massive fundraising and Ivory-bill-specific habitat programs. If we ever get definitive proof, I pledge to personally donate a significant-to-me sum of money to the Ivory-bill conservation effort.
I think we have a "level playing field" here. No one involved in the controversy, in their lifetimes, has a single confirmed sighting of the Ivory-bill. We all have access to the same historical books, the same Cornell paper, the same original Luneau DVD of the alleged Ivory-bill, etc etc. In my opinion, not enough people have taken the time to carefully examine this stuff.
Some of my blog entries:
Jerome Jackson's endorsement
Red flags in the evidence
The smoking gun?
Luneau video analysis
Abnormal Pileated information--why was it suppressed?
Kent calls from Blue Jays
Why were no Ivory-bill "sound combinations" recorded?
Skepticism from the inside
Was groupthink a problem?
Attacking the questioners
Associated Press refers to "skeptical bloggers"
United Press International mentions this blog
Smoky Mountain News article mentions this blog
Could all those sight records be mis-IDs?
Who has visited this blog?
Just how wary was it?
Was "Elvis" just an abnormally-colored Pileated?
Does Cornell's Aug 24 audio release actually weaken their case?
Jim Tanner said that, in his experience, the IBWO was not very wary
A couple of analogies
The New York Times (8/30/05) backpedals
Nature article asks: But is it really alive?
More details on their noisy flight
Real-world rare bird photos
IBWO tour solicitations panned
Notes from the late Jim Tanner on finding ivory-bills
What does the future hold?
Hundreds of duck hunters in the Cache River area?
Don Eckelberry's Ivory-bill description
Parallels with the 2002 Pearl River search
Ivory-bill hoax in South Carolina, 1971?
Bombshell from the USFWS?
Let's see the Imperial Woodpecker video
Pileateds photographed at bark scaling sites
Huge, clown-like woodpecker videotaped
"We are on a very cold trail right now"
"The awesome PR machine"
Videos of AOU Ivory-bill presentations
The story behind the Luneau video
Cornell's original paper (and Supporting Online Materials)
The video news release
David Sibley's IBWO page
Answers.com information on IBWO
Google map of Cache River area
Article by the late Eirik Blom on IBWO skepticism
Skeptical article (Jan 2002) by Don Hendershot
Skeptical article (May 2005) by Don Hendershot
Skeptical article (Oct 2005) by Don Hendershot
Web page by Bruce L. "Buck" Nelson, a skeptic
IBWO links from Laura Erickson, a believer
Ivory-bills LiVE!! blog, from Cyberthrush, a believer
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