Skeptics now say bird not extinct

Doubters change their minds after hearing tapes of an ivory-billed woodpecker's call.

Associated Press
Published August 3, 2005

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Recordings of the ivory-billed woodpecker's distinctive double-rap sounds have convinced doubting researchers that the large bird once thought extinct is still living in an east Arkansas swamp.

Last month, a group of ornithologists had questioned the announcement in April of the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, last sighted in 1944. They said blurry videotape of a bird in flight wasn't enough evidence. So a Cornell University researcher who was part of the team that announced the bird's rediscovery says his group sent the doubters more evidence.

"We sent them some sounds this summer from the Arkansas woods," said John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell ornithology lab. "We appreciate their ability to say they are now believers."

The doubters had prepared an article for a scientific journal questioning whether the bird had really been found. They now plan to withdraw the article, according to ornithologist Richard Prum of Yale University, one of the doubters.

Prum said Tuesday he was particularly convinced by the Cornell researchers' two recordings of a series of nasally sounds that the ivory bills make and an exchange of double-rap sounds between two birds. He said the sounds matched recordings made in the 1930s in Louisiana.

"It's really on the basis of the new evidence that we've become convinced that the ivory-billed woodpecker exists," Prum said in a telephone interview.

The recordings seem to indicate that there is more than one ivory-billed woodpecker in the area.

"The bird that we saw had to have a mommy and a daddy," said Scott Simon, director of the Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. "We have solid evidence for one. We believe there are more."

One portion of the tapes has a distant double-rap, followed closely by a double-rap that is very close.

The Cornell researchers plan to release the audio publicly at the American Ornithologists' Union in Santa Barbara, Calif., Aug. 23-27.