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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.

Web ivorybills.blogspot.com

"....The truth is out there."

-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

Monday, February 09, 2009


-- While We're Waiting --


In the event you've got way too much free time on your hands ;-) :

Bill Pulliam has pulled together for easy accessibility his various analyses of the original Luneau video in a recent post here:


For opposing points of view:

Louis Bevier's original analysis of the matter is still up below (...so I guess he hasn't changed his mind yet ;-)) :

http://web.mac.com/lrbevier/ivorybilled/Identification.html (several pages)

And Martin Collinson's study of the matter as published in an open access journal is here:


What I stiiiiiiiiill have not seen anywhere are the conclusions of an extensive analysis Cornell did on a computer-generated, digitized Ivory-billed Woodpecker in flight, to see how it would match up against the pixels of the bird in Luneau's video. If anyone can fill in the results of that analysis, I'd appreciate hearing of it.

Regarding your query about the "extensive analysis Cornell did," the only thing I ever saw was a PhD thesis on advanced computer animation of an IBWO in flight. The "results of that analysis," such as they are, are in that thesis (made available online more than a year ago, I think), and they say nothing about how a computer-generated, digitized IBWO in flight would match up against the pixels in the Luneau video. I don't know if there is any analysis of the kind you describe being undertaken.
Yes John, the PhD. thesis involved digitizing or animating an Ivory-bill (turns out that accurately animating bird flight is a hugely difficult matter), and was completed -- but the next step for Cornell was to take that animation and place the (created) bird in the flight path, posture, direction, etc. of the Luneau bird to see what color patterns would then arise therefrom; i.e. would they match or differ from the patterns seen in Luneau's film.
Obviously, the variables involved are numerous, and possibly the results were simply inconclusive; I'd simply be curious to know (or maybe they're still awaiting publication?).
The inertia analysis posted here...


...proves that the original analysis of the Arkansas video is wrong. The body of the bird would have to accelerate at about 30 g's (where g is the acceleration due to gravity) according to the original interpretation. It is clear that the body of a bird cannot accelerate at such a rate, but the wings can, and in fact the acceleration of the wingtip of a large woodpecker (easily computed using data from Tobalske's 1996 paper) is -- lo and behold -- about 30 g's.

Mike Collins
So Mike, if this aspect of Cornell's analysis is wrong, what about the bigger picture -- in your opinion is the Luneau bird an IBWO, PIWO, or unidentifiable? Just curious.
What leads you to believe that Cornell conducted, is conducting, or intends to conduct such a follow-up study, cyberthrush? Have they actually said so, or implied that in writing somewhere? Just curious.

"Central to the argument is the interpretation of a fuzzy video depicting

a large black and white bird taking flight. This thesis describes the creation of

a physiologically-accurate animation of a flying Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in hope

that it can be one day used to verify the rediscovery."

A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University

in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science

by Jeffrey Michael Wang January 2007
"So Mike, if this aspect of Cornell's analysis is wrong, what about the bigger picture..."

I think it's an ivorybill since the wings show too much white on too many frames to be a pileated. The wing shape is also interesting, and there's a comparison with the underside of the wing of the bird in the 2006 Pearl video at the web site that I mentioned above. In the bigger picture, it really doesn't matter that the original interpretation is wrong, but there's a much bigger picture. There are all the sightings in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and other states. The most recent sighting was by a birder with 770 species on his ABA Area list. There are also the other forms of evidence that have been obtained in Florida and Louisiana. People need to wake up and focus on saving this species from extinction rather than arguing about it.

Mike Collins
I suspect that it will be challenging to model the Arkansas video. There are many types of flight, including takeoff, landing, swooping, cruising, escape, climbing, descending, soaring, diving, gliding, intermittent, etc. Reliable models have been developed for cruising flight. The other flight types seem to be less amenable to modeling. An escape flight in which the bird is gaining altitude (as in the Arkansas video) might be the worst case of all.

Mike Collins
In response to John T. here is one of the pages I have linked to previously that indicates the work which Cornell has carried out:


Yet still no official publication (unless it is in process -- I have previously made some inquiries to which I got no response).
I think it is fairly clear that the reason the grad student picked the IBWO of all the birds he could've chosen to digitize was for this additional purpose of Cornell's use.
Thanks for the clarification, Dr. Collins. Will your article be out any time soon?
For now, I can only say that the article was accepted for publication after going through the peer review process and being reviewed by an expert in woodpeckers and an expert in flight mechanics.
Listen to this program where Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about critical thinking, in this case referring to people's claims of UFOs, but applicable to the search for the IBWO:


"I'm just not interested in fuzzy footage of what people don't recognize in the sky...the challenge goes back to them to produce the evidence befitting the depth of the claim."

Some IBWO searchers are sure they've seen the bird. Many Bigfoot buffs are just as certain of their claims. It's a waste of time listening to any of the claims with the weak evidence being produced.
So is there any point in mentioning, for the 27,857th time, that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is universally accepted as a real thing, and was universally acknowledged to exist as recently at the mid-20th Century; whereas UFOs and Bigfoots have never been universally accepted by the scientific community to exist at all, ever, anywhere and there is not a single specimen of either sitting in any museum anywhere on the planet, thus the comparison is not valid? Naw, I'm sure there is no point...
Probably not. Just like there's probably no point in re-analyzing blurry video that will never be conclusive. Doesn't matter if it's UFOs or Bigfoot or Ivory-bills or Elvis Presley (who is universally acknowledged to have lived as recently as the mid-20th Century.)

Obvious to many is the reason such lousy evidence is being rehashed is that there's nothing decent to study, and the reason there's nothing decent to analyze is that the bird is almost certainly extinct.

The above quote is sensible and applicable The Bird.
There's no need at all to drag mythical beasts or extraterrestrial fantasies into the discussion in order to make your point perfectly well.

I haven't "reanalyzed" anything; I just reposted links to the one analysis I did a couple of years ago, during the heat of the debate. In fact I have argued very strongly that there's no point in continuing to yell at each other about the particulars of that video, and that we just have to accept a scientific stalemate (hardly an unusual situation). But everyone on earth has not been following this debate religiously since day 1; there are always new people stumbling in to the discussion who might want to read the old stuff, and old fogeys who might want to re-read it.

As to "almost certainly extinct," there are those two recent peer-reviewed publications that found that (a) the survival of a single-digit population for 60 years is not only possible, it's quite reasonable, and (b) even in the most heavily surveyed areas in Arkansas, and even assuming no valid detections at all there, there still has not been enough effort put in to statistically rule out the occurrence of 1 or 2 birds just in that one region. Of course absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; equally straightforward is that an accumulation of absence of evidence does eventually start to become evidence of absence if the evidence is being actively sought. However, the statistics suggest that in the case of The Bird the pile of negative evidence is nowhere near big enough, even now, to say that the bird is "almost certainly" or even "probably" extinct. It may not be for decades to come; probabilities drop pretty slowly with increasing sample size after a while. Deal with it. Uncertainty is part of life and science.

It is a common error of birders to assume we are far more efficient bird detectors than we really are. Stating that the Ivorybill is "almost certainly extinct" is a leap of faith (or if you prefer, a statement of personal belief) that has not been justified scientifically or statistically.
There's no need at all to drag mythical beasts or extraterrestrial fantasies into the discussion in order to make your point perfectly well.

Who are you to say they are fantasies or mythical?

The analogy between Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Ivory-bill is a very good one and I think that's what makes some Believers angry. There are credible reports, blurry still photos, lousy video, books and websites dedicated to the subjects. Similar excuses are trotted out about why the creature can never quite be confirmed: extreme wariness, difficult habitat, people not being taken seriously.

Bigfoot Believers argue that people didn't believe the stories of gorillas. Why can't there be another species to be discovered in the swamps and deep forests? Loch Ness Believers say there really were "sea monsters" at one time. Why couldn't they still be lurking in the deep lake in Scotland? The Ivory-bill? Heck, they were confirmed 60 years ago!
Anonymous is really grasping at straws. It's a shame he can't support his arguments without resorting to allusions to legends and folklore. Really makes it hard to take any of his thoughts seriously.
Notice that Anonymous 8:56 ONLY addressed Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, completely ignoring the actual substance of the argument and the peer-reviewed science mentioned. And they say the "believers" are the irrational, unscientific ones?

Hyperbolic rhetoric has been the bane of this discussion from very early on, from Jerry Jackson's "faith-based ornithology" to Tom Nelson and his gang of anonymous trolls who always loved the Bigfoot analogy. I think in Science, Bigfoot and UFOs are probably akin to what Nazis are in popular discourse. According to one version of Godwin's Law, when disputants start comparing those they disagree with to the Nazis, then rational argument is over and the person who employed "reductio ad Hitlerum" has lost the argument by default. Same can be said when you start comparing people you disagree with to UFO believers in a scientific discussion, I think.
After Cornell's announcement common sense told me that further confirmation would soon follow. Common sense now tells me that confirmation will never be obtained.

It's all empty rhetoric without some solid evidence.

Jane Goodall discussing Bigfoot on NPR: Well now, you'll be amazed when I tell you that I'm sure that they exist... there are people looking. There are very ardent groups in Russia, and they have published a whole lot of stuff about what they've seen. Of course, the big, the big criticism of all this is, "Where is the body?" You know, why isn't there a body? I can't answer that, and maybe they don't exist, but I want them to.
Science is not based on "common sense." "Common sense" gave us a flat earth, steady-state universe, and aether. Much of the real world proves to be non-intuitive, like that a large boldly-patterned forest bird actually can be exceedingly hard to detect even with a large effort if there are few enough of them spread over a large enough area.

And once again, you ignore statistics and publications in favor of "common sense" and Bigfoot. I think I've had enough of this little circular highway for now.
Bill, surely you recognize that you can never convince Amy Lester (aka Ward Zylstra), the angry former Bigfoot devotee, of her biased and erroneous logic. The only way to terminate your drive around the beltway with her is to park your car and walk away from it.
Don't be despondent

Geoff Hill feels he now has "a good chance of getting a photo"

the fact that neither his team, nor anyone else, has had any sightings since last spring seems an irrelevancy.

The reason for the optimism? Cameras that work.

All they have to do "is guess where an ivorybill will land."

shouldn't be long then?
Bill, surely you recognize that you can never convince Amy Lester (aka Ward Zylstra), the angry former Bigfoot devotee, of her biased and erroneous logic.

Yet another misidentification.
Anonymous who wrote "Don't be despondent..."

Tim Smallwoody, no doubt
no doubt

What I Want to Believe + Conviction = Fact

(Sounds British + I don't like the guy = so it most be the guy.)
the Ivory-bill will of course land on the 'opposite' side of the tree.

make a note
Please read through this article beginning to end and see how it might pertain to "our" debate.
There are websites that deal with hairy wildmen, not this one; as mythical as CT may be, he hardly falls into that class, and neither does the subject of his posts. This site is devoted to a feathered friend whose historic existence has never been debated [yawn].
The existence of apes has not been debated either.

The author of that article employs most of the major debating points Ivory-bill believers use:

1. All those observers can't be wrong
2. There's plenty of evidence, but people aren't open minded enough to accept it.
3. The absence of evidence is no evidence for absence
4. "Time has come in Wildman research to shift the onus of proof squarely on to the skeptics and to realize that beyond a certain point doubt is not only not any more reasonable but also a positive (or should one say negative?) hindrance to the advancement of real science."

Many more too numerous to mention.

It is easy to see the folly in unreasonable things others believe in, more difficult in those that we believe in.
Get a grip. These debating points and comments are typical of most controversies in science and are hardly unique to cryptozoology (including the search for undescribed primates and Wildman) or ornithology. Moreover, they are the views held by one person and do not characterize those of every person open-minded to the possibility that IBWO just might be hanging on. Of course, most everyone sees as folly the "unreasonable things others believe in." Obviously, debates and disagreement will always be a part of science, pseudoscience, and everyday conversation. That's the way life is. Cryptozoology and the search for UFOs have no more relevance to the effort to document IBWO than it does to identifying causes (including government conspiracy) of the 911 tragedy, Hurricane Katrina, or the current economic meltdown. But if you continue to believe it's a big deal, then enjoy your persuasion; may it give you the peace and satisfaction you need.
I'd say knowledgeable people are starting to get a pretty good grip on this controversy.

"open-minded to the possibility the bird exists." A far cry from the heady days after the Cornell announcement.
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