July 21, 2005
Expert Questions Existence of Woodpecker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- An expert on the ivory-billed woodpecker is questioning evidence that purportedly shows the rare bird, once thought to be extinct, in the swamps of southeast Arkansas.
Jerome A. Jackson, a zoologist at Florida Gulf Coast University, is challenging a blurry video cited by other scientists as showing a clip of one bird, saying the four-second image does "no more than suggest the possibility" that the bird still exists.
Researchers at Cornell University announced in April that they had spotted the woodpecker, previously thought to have died out after flourishing in the forests of the southeastern United States. The findings were first reported in the journal Science.
Cornell researchers pointed to several independent sightings of the bird and the video clip, which, they said, showed key features of the woodpecker, including its distinctive wing markings.
Jackson, who wrote the book "In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker," published in 2004, wrote a paper with two other biologists questioning the bird's discovery, but he would not identify the journal or discuss details of the manuscript until the research is published.
Ginger Pinholster, a spokeswoman for Science, said she has heard nothing about plans to publish Jackson's research or an expected rebuttal by the team that announced the discovery.
Connie Bruce, a spokeswoman for Cornell's ivory-billed woodpecker project, said challenges from other biologists are a natural part of science.
"We would have been disappointed if there was no close scrutiny by the scientific community," Bruce said Thursday in a telephone interview. "This is not surprising at all that we have controversy. It's the process. It should definitely be going through this."
The Nature Conservancy, also part of the group that announced the woodpecker's discovery, stands behind its findings, spokesman Jay Harrod said.
"One of the reasons that we kept this story a secret for so long was because we didn't want to present it until the analysis of the video had been completed," Harrod said.
Since the woodpecker's discovery, federal agencies have promised millions to help preserve the bird's eastern Arkansas habitat in and around the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge.