The Ivory-billed Woodpecker: New Facts and Evidence

April 21, 2010

MANDEVILLE, La., April 21 /PRNewswire/ — Two videos of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker have been obtained in the Pearl River in Louisiana, where there is a history of reports of this elusive species. One of the videos provides the first new facts about this iconic species since the work of James Tanner was published in 1942 and reveals that there had been a misconception about the way it flies. The scientist who obtained the videos has documented serious issues that have come to light during his involvement in this area of research since 2005, including the suppression of evidence, the lack of open discussion, and an atmosphere of fear that contributes to these problems.

One of the videos was obtained from an observation position 75 feet above a bayou. The strategy was to watch for birds flying over the treetops in the distance, but an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flew along the bayou and passed nearly directly below. From this perspective, two prominent white stripes were detected on the back, and the bird was identified in the field as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker based on these definitive markings. The bird can also be identified based only upon what appears in the video. All but a few species are ruled out by a distinctive flap style and a wingspan that is significantly greater than 24 inches. Prominent white patches on the wings and other characteristics rule out all but an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Based on historical accounts of a duck-like flight, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was thought to have a duck-like flap style in which the wings remain extended during the entire flap cycle, but the bird in the fly-under video has a flap style in which the wings are folded closed in the middle of each upstroke. This flap style is dramatically different from that of a duck but similar to that of other woodpeckers. This finding is supported by a clue that was overlooked for decades: a photo by Tanner of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in flight with the wings folded closed against the body. Historical accounts evidently alluded to the duck-like speed of the flight rather than the flap style. Historical accounts also mentioned a high flight speed and rapid flaps. The fly-under video provides the first data on these quantities, and the high values (about 34 mph for the flight speed) are consistent with the accounts of Tanner and others.

Politics has impeded the publication of the Pearl River data, which has been ignored in the debate of the persistence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker despite positive assessments by independent experts. The videos are analyzed in an article that was accepted for publication by PLoS ONE based on reviews by ornithologists with expertise in appropriate specialty areas. In a glaring breach of the usual peer review process, the publication decision was reversed without justification two days before the scheduled publication date. The paper was ultimately rejected based on the opinion of a reviewer lacking expertise relevant to the analysis.

    Michael D. Collins
    (703) 209-0965


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SOURCE Michael D. Collins

Source: newswire

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