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Peckergate: The Ivory-billed Woodpecker Hoax
Campephilus principalis Still Extinct -- Pileated Woodpecker Misidentified in Arkansas as Elsewhere
The Bird in Cornell's only "Proof", the blurry Luneau video, is a Pileated Woodpecker.
Millions of dollars have been diverted from legitimate conservation projects and scientific research to Ivorybill fraudsters.
"If thousands of people can be shown a few seconds of blurry video of a Pileated Woodpecker and be convinced that it's an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, then the sky's the limit." Steve N.G. Howell (source).
"To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself." Theodore Dalrymple (source).
The latest Ivory-billed Woodpecker episode is over. It isn't there now, and it wasn't there in 2004, 2005 or 2006. We've been fooled, but not everybody is staying fooled.
There is no credible evidence that the North American subspecies of Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis survived after the demise of the Singer Tract birds in the 1940s after the last substantial patch of old-growth habitat was destroyed. What can only be another routine case of misidentification of the common Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus in good Pileated but poor Ivorybill habitat in Arkansas has been promoted as the latest Ivorybill "rediscovery". It has received widespread publicity as "fact", thanks to the unscientific cooperation of Science magazine. Apparently Science only considered the quantity of dubious evidence cumulated and "enhanced" in secret by the "rediscoverers" rather than the total absence of any proof that would persuade a competent state rare bird records committee or qualified peer reviewers. The article claiming a rediscovery should be retroactively rejected by Science and withdrawn until the proponent hoaxsters meet their burden of proof, which cannot be satisfied with sight records by dudes and stringers, blurry video of a Pileated Woodpecker, and tape recordings of Blue Jays.
Twitchers have been far more skeptical of the latest "rediscovery" than Science, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, or the supporting "Big Green" groups including the National Audubon Society. They know from experience to distrust incredible reports made by people other than well-established, expert birders -- who never see Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. They also require indisputable evidence to count a rare bird. Furthermore, unlike the Ivory-billed Woodpecker hucksters, twitchers have no financial interest in promoting an Ivory-billed Woodpecker "rediscovery".
For a tongue-in-cheek review of similar Pileated Woodpecker misidentifications between 1966 and 1983, based entirely on actual, written reports, none of which was self-impeached with video of Pileated Woodpecker as in this case, see:
Since the publication of Jerome Jackson's article in January 2006, skepticism has been spreading down from the top. When the subject comes up at bird club meetings, the most respected birders are dismissing the Arkansas Ivorybill as a mistake or a hoax. When others see the leading birders in agreement, the conversation turns from how to see an Ivorybill to what can be done to set the record straight. The same thing will be happening at rare bird stakeouts and on pelagic trips. What must have seemed like a brilliant coup for the Cornell Lab is rapidly turning into a nightmare reminiscent of Piltdown Man. [See: Hunter R. Rawlings, III, Interim President of Cornell University, lauds Ivory-billed Woodpecker "rediscovery" in speech denouncing "intelligent design" as junk science.]
Rather than conceding that the Ivorybill "rediscovery" was based on erroneous sight records and a misidentified video and returning grant money taken away from worthwhile conservation projects, management at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and their allies have been working overtime to keep this lucrative hoax alive. They're now in the bunker, lobbing stinkbombs at Jerome Jackson, David Sibley, Tom Nelson, and anyone else who threatens their finances and careers. They also seem to be calling in favors. Thus, rather than standing up to the abuse of bird conservation for publicity and profit, the American Bird Conservancy, a small organization far down the pecking order for government grants, has issued a ridiculous statement attacking Jackson. (Comments.) This brings to mind David Brower's remark that if you consolidated every environmental organization in the world, the oil companies could still buy them out for lunch money.
Consequently, it's not surprising that most people dependent on ornithology or conservation for their paychecks have been afraid to take on the powerful interests behind the Ivorybill hoax. However, a few whistleblowers have surfaced anonymously in the comments on Tom Nelson's Ivory-Bill Skeptic blog, which is the best place to keep up with developments in this scandalous affair. [In 2002, before the Ivory-bill bonanza, Steven McCormick, the lavishly reimbursed President of The Nature Conservancy, had a secret, $23 million President's Discretionary Fund. Most conservation groups would line up like trained sealions for a tidbit from such an enormous stash. Update: McCormick resigned in October 2007.]
I doubt that the principal proponents of the Ivorybill hoax believe their own propaganda. Their brighter underlings clearly don't. As "Extremely Anonymous" commented on Ivory-bill Skeptic:
The cult-like flock of adherents to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker religion have swallowed the entire pack of lies, as have dude birders who rely on the mainstream media for scientific news. Indeed, with Fitzpatrick now avoiding the press, the loudest proponents of the "rediscovery" are wacko bloggers and forum posters. One particularly comical aspect is the unsuccessful effort by stringers who have been excluded from the IBWO gravy train to promote their own bogus "sightings", which, without institutional endorsement, lack monetary value.
19 May 2006: Woodpecker sighting a flight of fancy? Scientists said last year they'd found the long-lost Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Now where is it? By John Crewdson, Chicago Tribune. This is the only competent newspaper article to date about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker fiasco. Be sure to read it in its entirety, as it contains interesting quotes from Bret Whitney, Louis Bevier, Jon Dunn, and others. Here are some excerpts:
For follow-up, see the comments about Mr. Crewdson's article on Ivory-bill Skeptic.
17 March 2006: Comment on the Fitzpatrick article by David A. Sibley, Louis R. Bevier, Michael A. Patten & Chris S. Elphick. Science Vol. 311 no. 5767 p. 1555. "We reanalyzed video presented as confirmation that an ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) persists in Arkansas (Fitzpatrick et al., Reports, 3 June 2005, p. 1460). None of the features described as diagnostic of the ivory-billed woodpecker eliminate a normal pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)."
Louis Bevier added, in a message to ID Frontiers on 28 March 2006:
24 January 2006: The longer the search goes on without confirmation, the more skeptical I become. While I found the video unconvincing, as birds often appear much lighter or darker depending on light reflections, the double rap tapes made by remote recording devices and disclosed just as leading ornithologists were preparing to publish a paper questioning the latest Ivory-billed Woodpecker claim at first seemed conclusive. Now, however, Jerome Jackson has pointed out in his article in the January 2006 Auk that the devices were placed near roads and campgrounds and not necessarily in the "deep woods". It's conceivable that the recordings are of Campephilus double raps broadcast from a tape recorder either by someone trying to locate birds or someone trying to fool the searchers. In addition, Jackson, a leading authority on North American woodpeckers and preeminent authority on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, believes that the drums may have been given by a different species of woodpecker. The "kent" calls recorded could have been made by Blue Jays, or as Jackson suggests, with a single-reed, woodwind mouthpiece.
There still is no solid evidence that the Ivorybill did not become extinct in North America about 60 years ago. Neotropical Campephilus woodpeckers are noisy and easy to locate, and historical reports show that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was likewise quite conspicuous. The inability of a large team of searchers to find one in a patch of marginal habitat strongly suggests that this is simply another case of misidentification of the common Pileated Woodpecker, or as twitchers would say, stringing. (A "stringer" originally was a birder who would report a string of questionable birds that nobody else could find, i.e., "I had an Aquatic Warbler, then I had a Rose-colored Starling, then I had an Ortolan Bunting, etc.")
UPDATE 20 January 2006: Paid IBWO searchers in Texas. This is a goofy waste of taxpayers' money. There is no credible evidence whatsoever that Ivory-billed Woodpecker survived in Texas after the early 20th Century. I wonder what worthwhile conservation projects lost funding to support this boondoggle.
UPDATE: Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis): Hope and the interfaces of science, conservation and politics by Jerome A. Jackson. Auk 123(1): 1-15 (January 2006)(pdf). Just the facts, without the religion. The "rediscovery" has fallen apart like a house of cards.
Articles about Jackson's paper: "Ivory Bill Report is Called 'Faith-based Ornithology'" by James Gorman, New York Times, 24 January 2006. The Trustees of Cornell University must not have been pleased to see the headline about "faith-based ornithology" in the New York Times. It risks becoming known as the Bob Jones University of the North if someone doesn't pull the plug on this ridiculous episode soon. The rapidly unraveling Ivorybill hoax is the equivalent of a bedbug infestation at the Hotel School, Cornell's best-known department.
UPDATE 8 November 2005: Possible female Imperial Woodpecker Campephilus imperialis sighting at Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico! Observed near Divisadero on the north rim. Details are in a message posted on 16 November on the Mexico-Birding Yahoo! group. Most birders had given up on the Imperial Woodpecker due to the wholesale destruction of old-growth pine forests in western Mexico. Thick-billed Parrots were seen in the vicinity last year. There is no suitable breeding habitat for Imperial Woodpecker in the vicinity. See "Is the larger, grander cousin of our Ivory-billed Woodpecker - the Imperial Woodpecker - still flying in western Mexico? By Matt Mendenhall. Birder's World, December 2005. Since the last fragments of old growth forest in the highlands of western Mexico have only recently been destroyed, a few, possibly non-breeding, imperialis may survive and may be traveling substantial distances to forage. An Imperial Woodpecker sighting is much more plausible than an Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting, as the last Ivorybill breeding habitat in North America was destroyed in the 1940s.
UPDATE 25 August 2005: What are claimed to be possible Ivory-billed Woodpecker calls and drums taped in Arkansas are now available online on the Cornell website. The most interesting cut is the February 5, 2005 recording of three double raps. The double rap tapes seemed at first to be the best evidence that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker could still exist, but as Jerome Jackson has pointed out, there are a number of other possible explanations, including the possibility that remote recorders picked up playback of tapes of other Campephilus or that the drums were given by other species of woodpeckers. Since the Luneau video upon which Fitzpatrick et al. relied has been demonstrated to be a video of a Pileated Woodpecker, and all sight records have been fleeting glimpses by unreliable observers, the best explanation of the tapes is that they were made by something other than an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
UPDATE 25 August 2005. The issue of North American Birds that arrived today, volume 59 number 2, includes a superb Ivory-billed Woodpecker Special Section, although it supports the hoax. The lead article is K.V. Rosenberg, R.W. Rohrbaugh & M. Lammertink, An overview of Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) sightings in eastern Arkansas in 2004-2005 (pages 198-206). It includes details of the Pileated Woodpecker misidentifications along the Cache River, referenced on a map, as well as photos of a pair of Ivory-billed Woodpecker decoys carved by Gene Sparling.
UPDATE 2 August 2005. Vindication for Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Its Fans. By James Gorman & Andrew C. Revkin. The New York Times (which covers science as if it were a football game). Cornell recently produced a tape of double rap drums and nasal "kent" calls made in the White River National Wildlife Refuge, south of the Cache River swamp where a supposedly white-winged woodpecker was seen and videotaped, to the scientists who were preparing to publish an article questioning the claimed Ivory-billed Woodpecker rediscovery. With the Bush Administration, The Nature Conservancy, Cornell University and LSU lined up against them, they got cold feet and flip-flopped, withdrawing their article, and claimed to accept the record: "Dr. Prum said the double raps appeared to be from a pair of ivory bills communicating with each other, one close and one far away. 'I'm thinking about when I should head down to Arkansas,' he said." [So if you too were fooled, take comfort in the fact that one of the leading experts also was fooled.] Prum has since flipped back. [Ditto for Frank Gill.] The tapes are available online, and as noted above, the February 5, 2005 recording of three double raps was the most persuasive evidence of the continued existence of Ivory-billed Woodpecker until Jerome Jackson persuasively rebutted it, but not proof that Ivory-billed Woodpecker exists. Those claiming that Ivory-billed Woodpecker still exists have failed to meet their burden of proof.
On February 11, 2004, Gene M. Sparling III of Hot Springs, Arkansas, observed what he later claimed was a single male Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis but must have been a Pileated Woodpecker while on a canoe trip in Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, south of Dixie, Arkansas and just north of I40, the highway between Memphis and Little Rock. The official story is that Sparling posted a report on the Arkansas Canoe Club Message Board, although such a message does not exist in online archives. Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology arranged to have Sparling take him and Bobby Harrison to the place where he had seen the bird. After one night out, Gallagher and Harrison saw a bird that most likely was a Pileated Woodpecker (but might have been a Red-headed Woodpecker or some other common bird) along a bayou through degraded, second-growth cypress and tupelo swamp forest. Like Sparling, they called it an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. (Harrison claims to have seen Ivory-billed Woodpecker 6 times, and Gallagher has been aggressively marketing a book about the bird.) There have been at least six additional claimed sightings since February 2004, the most recent on February 14, 2005. (Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Details about what the search team saw and heard.) Double rap drums were heard on three occasions in series ranging from three to 18 double raps: 9 November 2004, 14 February 2005 & 7 March 2005. On 9 November 2004, the drums were coming from two different directions, "presenting the impression that two birds were involved. However, the possibility that a single bird was flying back and forth, alternatively drumming from two different positions could not be ruled out." (Supplementary online material.) The species or tape recorder producing the double rap drums was not identified.
Each sighting has been of a single male bird -- all possibly the same bird -- within a two mile radius of the initial observation. There is no concrete evidence that anything other than Pileated Woodpeckers or other common birds have been observed. James Tanner wrote that "Ivory-billed Woodpeckers usually travel in pairs, at least that is the number most often observed. Single individuals seen are usually unmated birds." (James Tanner, The Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Research Report No. 1 of the National Audubon Society, October 1942, page 60.)
Tanner failed to visit this area during his survey of possible Ivorybill sites in the 1930s. The only site in Arkansas that he surveyed was White River Waterfowl Refuge in Arkansas and Desha Counties which is in the same river system directly south of the "rediscovery" locality. He commented on the White River Refuge as follows: "Ivory-bills were once recorded from this area, and there are a few virgin tracts of sweet gum and oak timber but too small and scattered to make really good Ivory-bill territory. I found no indications of the birds still being there." (Tanner, The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, page 25.)
The previous last known site for Ivorybills was the Singer Tract (owned by the Singer Corporation) in Madison Parish, northern Louisiana just west of the Mississippi and about 175 miles south of the Cache River observation site. Over the objections of the National Audubon Society, the old growth forests in the Singer Tract were logged during in the early 1940s using German prisoners of war as forced laborers (subsidized logging). President Roosevelt specifically refused to act to protect the last known Ivorybills and even permitted the logging company to use German prisoners to destroy the forest. The Cornell Laboratory and Audubon studied the birds on the Singer Tract but did nothing to preserve their habitat. It's possible but highly unlikely that the birds from the Singer Tract population may have moved north to Arkansas after their habitat was destroyed, but there is no proof that they did so. The area of the Singer Tract where Allen et al. studied Ivorybills is now a completely treeless soybean plantation.
John W. Fitzpatrick et al. Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America. Science Express (pdf). It should be called Fitzpatrick's Folly.
Supporting Online Material, including pages from field notebooks (pdf). Quantity without quality -- a document dump.
ibwo.org - David Luneau's website about his participation in the search for the Ivorybill, his misidentified Pileated Woodpecker video made on April 25, 2004, and remote motion-detecting cameras.
Rediscovering the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell is going to have some 'splainin' to do.
Hunt and Peck. The Ivory-billed Woopecker isn't extinct after all. Just darn hard to spot. By William Booth. The Washington Post, 6 July 2005. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was concerned enough about a birder invasion that the refuge manager posted a couple armed officers at the Highway 17 bridge, the closest put-in for a canoe and smack dab in the middle of the two-mile stretch where the sightings have occurred, to keep the hordes out of the restricted area. Alas, it was not to be: The birders have (mostly) stayed away." This demonstrates how poorly the USFWS bureaucrats understand serious birders, birding, and presumed threats posed by birders. The chances of encountering an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the vicinity of the 2004 sightings would be minuscule even if it actually existed. Moreover, birders have always been much more skeptical of the Arkansas Ivorybill claim than Science magazine or the mainstream media. They know that dudes and stringers "see" Ivorybills regularly throughout the U.S., and that the media made similar claims about the obviously bogus "sightings" in the Pearl River area of Southeastern Louisiana. If some established, expert birder were to report seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, twitchers around the world would be checking airline schedules to Little Rock. But expert birders never see Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. [Non-birders reading this need to understand that birding expertise bears no relation to academic accomplishments, publications, or professional appointments. One doesn't become a great birder by taking classes, passing exams, or writing books and articles. Some of the world's finest birders never took a course in biology and certainly would not put up with the mind-numbing drudgery and anti-scientific political correctness prevalent in modern academia. And there's no crying in real birding. For a humorous analogy, see Why Mozart Didn't Get Tenure.]
In the absence of a photo, DNA evidence from droppings or feathers, a tape of a bird seen calling or drumming, or a tape of the same bird both drumming and calling, there is no proof that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker survives. Given the choice of spending a week or two in Arkansas with little prospect of seeing the disputed bird or going birding somewhere else where there are numerous potential life birds, almost every birder would select the latter. Furthermore, if twitchers went to Arkansas, observed the disputed bird and positively identified it as a Pileated, Cornell no doubt would invoke what Bill Oddie calls the "two bird theory", ie, you saw a different bird than our people saw, to keep the episode alive for another round of federal funding.
Putting armed officers on the Hwy 17 bridge was at least as idiotic as sending camouflaged National Guardsmen with M16s into Grand Central Terminal. All the feds accomplished was to alienate local outdoorsmen, whose cooperation would be most beneficial on other conservation projects. The money spent on salaries for armed cops to harass (missing) birders would have been better spent on habitat protection and education.
No more hope for the [Cuban] Ivory-billed Woodpecker. By Martjan Lammertink. Cotinga 3, February 1995. The Cuba expeditions in the 1980s included only one skilled birder, Ted Parker, who neither heard nor saw nor observed any recent signs of Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker in 1988. Thus claimed sightings by other members of the expeditions, all unverified, should be disregarded.
Newly Found Ivory-bill Images - Four previously unpublished photographs of Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker. By Tim Gallagher. Includes a photo taken in 1956 by George R. Lamb, the last documented record of Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
John V. Dennis. A Last Remnant of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Cuba. By John V. Dennis. Auk 65: 497-507 (1948)(pdf). [". . . The largest number he saw was a group of six, this in 1941. The group followed him through the woods for some distance, exhibiting great curiosity. . . .
"When we first arrived in the vicinity, the birds appeared somewhat agitated. At no time, however, would I say that they were shy. The agitation manifested itself by considerable vocal activity and by frequent changes of place on the nest. But as the birds became used to our presence, they seemed positively lethargic as they loitered in near-by trees."]
Of the woodpeckers in the genus Campephilus, apparently only principalis and maybe imperialis have/had highly specialized food requirements centered on recently dead or dying trees. For an example of another feeding strategy found in Campephilus, see Roberto P. Schlatter and Pablo Vergara, Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus) sap feeding and its role in the Tierra del Fuego forest bird assemblage. Journal of Ornithology 146(2):188-192 (2005). (Abstract).
By the same authors - Magellanic woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus) abundance and foraging in Tierra del Fuego, Chile. Journal of Ornithology 145(4):343-351 (2004). (Abstract).
A recent study of C. magellanicus finds that it provisions its nestlings with vertebrates, including a bat, lizards, and the nestlings of at least seven species of birds, including other woodpeckers which it excavates from woodpecker nest cavities. Food items delivered to nestlings included wood-boring insect larvae (57.6%), arachnids (13.1%), and vertebrates (4.6%). See Valerie S. Ojeda and M. Laura Chazarreta, Provisioning of Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus) Nestlings with Vertebrate Prey. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 118(2): 251-254 (June 2006).
Here's a handheld photo of a Crimson-bellied Woodpecker Campephilus haematogaster on the IRCT-Ecuador website showing the wing patterns that are usually difficult to see in the field, even though the species can be quite tame and easy to approach closely.
Genes contribute to religious inclination. New Scientist, 16 March 2005. This may explain the paradox of widespread religious fanaticism in North America, including belief in bigfoot, flying saucers, and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but widespread skepticism among closely related people in Europe. America was settled by waves of religious extremists, from the Pilgrims and Puritans to followers of the Mormons and equally fanatical Catholics. While offloading the loonies allowed England to restore the monarchy and prosper, they still remain dominant in America despite hundreds of years of scientific progress, even to the point of suppressing potentially life-saving medical research that they don't understand. At a "debate" among U.S. Presidential candidates in May 2007, three, including sitting members of the U.S. Senate and Congress, raised their hands in response to a question whether any of the candidates did not believe in evolution. See also: 1 in 5 Americans Believes Sun Revolves Around the Earth.
The ads on American radio indicate that there is no need for any evidence to fool a substantial number of people. Virtually every ad is blatantly fraudulent. Most ads tout pills that promise vaguely to help some part of the body, eg, "brain health" or "prostate health". Some ads claim to offer miracle cures that the medical profession is trying to suppress. Another common ad offers lists of houses in foreclosure, telling the gullible fools that they can "call today" if their last names start with A through M. Others can start calling "tomorrow morning". I don't know of any bloggers who print rubbish like this on their websites, but it runs constantly on the flagship outlets of Big Media, whose slimy bosses are quick to fire anyone who tells a non-PC truth.
The Joyce Hatto Hoax. It was promoted by the mainstream musical press, especially Gramophone, and blown up by more knowledgeable bloggers.
The Millions Letters Hoax, promoted by the New York Times, Washington Post and their followers in the corrupt mainstream media, which used empty boxes to fabricate support for the disastrous and highly unpopular illegal alien amnesty bill.
Latest on another obvious hoax promoted by the corrupt administration and a "Group of 88" incompetent and evil faculty members at a second tier (and sinking) American university -- the Duke lacrosse frame-up. Joe Drape, the original New York Times reporter assigned to the matter, quickly concluded that it was a hoax, and for that he was taken off the story by the lying propagandists who decide what's "fit to print" in the New York Times.
The New York Times admits to suppressing news for 3 years when requested to do so by the Bush Administration. Details.