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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, March 09, 2009


-- News, Addendum, P.S. --


Possible Ivory-billed Woodpecker photos incoming... :

Everyone will want to visit the new website from Gary Erdy and Steve Sheridan for recently-released pictures (from 2007) of possible Ivory-bills in a location not as yet publicly disclosed:


Bill Pulliam's current take (as one of the outside reviewers) on this evidence below (bottomline, he leans toward identification of mystery bird #3 as IBWO, and be sure to read his full analysis):


The proponents here (Erdy/Sheridan) seem to be taking a judiciously cautious, but optimistic, approach to their findings and seeking out further opinion and analysis. Many individuals have already
extensively reviewed the material presented (and more) and offered various opinions which I'm hoping will be made public at some point. The enlarged color picture of "mystery bird #3" (actually captured on film by accident while focused on another bird) will undoubtedly draw the most comment; the black-and-white Reconyx images are much less convincing, but are interesting, worth studying, and further indicate the difficulty of obtaining good photographic results from automatic equipment under such conditions. (May be worth mentioning that IBWO-like sound has also been recorded for the area in question, though not included as part of website.)

Once again the evidence is NON-definitive
(is that the high-pitched sound of skeptics tearing out their last few hair follicles that I hear in the background...), but maybe on par with the Luneau video, or some may think increments better, or, worse... tantalizing and worth pursuing, while also maddeningly inconclusive. I suspect the cyberspace debate over this material will be INTENSE, lengthy... and likely unfortunately, unresolvable (except by additional material). ...But for now, a nice adrenalin rush that may yet lead to something more solid.

For a variety of reasons I won't express an opinion on the material just yet --- though I have a 'first impression,' it is not a firm opinion and could be swayed by further disclosures. A 'vetting' process of sorts will likely ensue across the internet (there are certain individuals I'm particularly interested in hearing from). Given more time, details, and information I may voice a more definite opinion
later. For now I simply encourage readers to view the evidence carefully and cautiously. Otherwise...... have at it!!


I wasn't planning to jump in this quickly, but since some commenters are already echoing my initial thoughts, I'll go ahead with my FIRST gut impression/analysis:

First, I think there COULD be 1 or more IBWOs in these pics; knowing that there have been sighting and sound claims for the general area helps make that POSSIBLE. So I DO NOT DISCOUNT that as a possibility. The images do not appear to match ANY obvious candidate very precisely. What follows then is just an initial interpretation subject to change:

I believe "mystery bird #3" (as some others have indicated) is most likely a Red-headed Woodpecker; putting the shape/proportions aside (because they are easily distorted), the general color pattern matches RHWO better than alternative candidates (in my view). MOREOVER, I believe the bird may have its HEAD TURNED 180 degrees PREENING its back or wing, such that what people are interpreting as a neck stripe may actually be its beak and a tiny piece of white breast showing through separated (preened) feathers. The head-turning would also help explain the admittedly distorted look the bird exhibits for a RHWO. Clearly, other arguments can be made, but I don't believe RHWO can be easily ruled out.

I don't make out much at all from the last Reconyx image (bird on trunk way left); the flying bird image is intriguing (I'd like to hear further analysis), but I suspect also to be a RHWO, and the "blurry head" bird, while also intriguing, lacks enough detail to shout out IBWO more than the alternatives.

I want to stress that these are very tentative conclusions on my part, but in what I have heard/read so far they are tending to be reinforced, more than shaken. But I also want to add that even if ALL these particular images were shown to be NON-IBWOs, it does not eliminate the possibility of Ivory-bills residing in the area under study.

P.S.: it occurs to me that these pictures, at least the color photo, might be suitable (I would think) for discussion on the "Frontiers of Identification" birding listserv (which often has excellent insights), but I'm not a member over there. Surely though some reader here is a member and could direct that group to Gary's page for discussion at their listserv (they actually had a "woodpecker identification" thread going on recently, but it had nothing to do with Gary's website). ...Just a thought (unless it is inappropriate there for some reason? --- possibly, the Frontier group just doesn't touch IBWO stuff anymore???)

P.P.S.: from comments I see on the Web and in email it's clearer to me how ambiguous this bird (color photo) is to viewers. It can be viewed as angled leftward, angled rightward, or facing directly ahead; the head can be viewed in a wide variety of positions; not even absolutely certain what is bird and what is not part of the bird (I'm reasonably convinced by Bill's demo that the shield is part of the bird, but some other subtle elements less sure). That's why I like hearing from as many different people viewing on as many different screens as possible. Obviously, there is no exact species match for the bird as it appears; we can only look for a "best" match and then explain away the anomalies by distortion and special posturing. Accurate size measurements would certainly help, though those very measurements may be endlessly debated as well. And beyond all this there are probably many other tangential questions yet to be clarified.
...Have to go now, and let my head explode ;-)

i'll be interested to see if these images change any minds.
this is joke right?

I mean, no-one would take this seriously?
Before I even look at the photos/evidence I predict it will be lousy and subject to interpretation. I further predict that many believers will accept said evidence.
Actually the third image is not "lousy," although it is subject to interpretation. Image 2, taken with a lousy camera, looks pretty compelling, though it's also subject to interpretation.
All the images are compelling to me. The third in particular seems downright diagnostic.
Please seriously consider the following:

If the Ivory-bill has been extinct for decades no one could produce conclusive evidence.
If populations have been found (and several reportedly have) someone would almost certainly get a good photo or video with years worth of effort.

A number of very poor images have been produced. Why only poor images? Critical thinking says that if the Ivory-bill is extinct, the longer and closer the sighting and the higher the quality of the photo, the less likely people are to see an Ivory-bill, and that is exactly the case.

And yes, if the image is subject to interpretation it is "lousy." This is a good image: http://media.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2005/apr/woodpecker/blurb200a.jpg
One year from today, we will still have no definitive proof of an Ivory-bill. Unverifiable sightings will continue; more low-quality photos and/or video will be captured, and inconclusive kents and double-knocks will surely be heard and recorded. Someone from outside the Cornell team may try to manufacture some evidence.

Public euphoria over Cornell's reported Ivory-bill rediscovery will wane. One or more critical papers will be published, and the public will eventually place little value on the evidence described in Cornell's Science paper. Massive numbers of birders will not travel to the Cache River area to look for the Ivory-bill.

By 9/19/06, believers will remain, but their ranks will be much thinner than today. Some will seriously speculate that the "Ivory-bill" sighted in Arkansas in 2004 was truly the last of his breed.

Tom Nelson, September 2005

I believe every one of these publicly made predictions, based on the theory the IBWO is likely extinct, have come true.
General appeals to "critical thinking" are, like assertions about "common sense," utterly unscientific and mere expressions of pre-existing biases. I could just as easily argue that very rare, wary birds in difficult habitat are hard to photograph, and that "critical thinking" makes it absurd to suggest that getting an umambiguous photograph is anything less than extremely difficult, and I could actually site the ratio of Pileateds seen to the number well-photographed to support my argument. Been there. Done that. It's no longer interesting.

Critical, skeptical analyses along the lines of Bill Pulliam's would be far more interesting and useful than mere bloviating and repetition of pre-conceived ideas.

Just because a photograph requires interpretation doesn't mean it's "lousy." Yours is a manichean world-view. Life and science, in particular, are not that simple.
A fine speech. I especially enjoyed the use of "bloviating" and "manichean".

I'm going to continue evaluating the situation with critical thinking however.

Just because a photograph requires interpretation doesn't mean it's "lousy."

We'll see how your theory holds up with these photos.
Snarky comments about my vocabulary do not an argument make.

You and I obviously have different points of view, but that doesn't give either one of us a monopoly on the ability to engage in critical thought.

As I wrote earlier, I await thoughtful skeptical analysis of the images. I have my views on them, but I'm not unpersuadable. You seem to be.
I will believe the photos provide "conclusive evidence" as soon as the Cornell Lab and TNC start asking the public for donations to save the species that is conclusively evident in the images. Or when the Explorer's Club gives an award to the person who took the photo.
While the woodpecker in the picture doesn't jump out as an ivory-billed woodpecker it does not look like a pileated either. So my question to the dozen or so commentors above me would be, "What is it?" It is easy to be sarcastic and snide. But I haven't heard anybody say what it is.
await thoughtful analysis?

here you go:

ha ha ha
I think it certainly reads as IBWO. The only problem being the lack of dorsal stripe which is the clear result of its wing position. This effect can be seen in pictures of other Campephilus species.
Bill Pulliam's 3-frame video makes is abundantly clear that the white shield is part of the bird. The natural skeptical claim would be that of an aberrant Pileated, even if an aberration like that has never been documented. Where such claims cross from the plausible to the implausible is if a Pileated would need two or more aberrations which just happen to match the Ivory-bill. I eagerly await an accurate distance measurement to determine if the mystery bird's size is plausible or implausible for Pileated.
I believe it is a red headed woodpecker. Do a google image search and you will see several better poses that match the mystery bird. Look at the picture with the pileated AND the mystery bird and there is no question the bird is much smaller than the pileated, no need for a measuring tape. The white stripe is a peek at the white breast under the wing. The exaggerated thin neck is from distortion of the ridiculous enlargement of a bird photographed at an extreme distance. This is a no brainer. Ivorybills have very distinct shoulder straps that would show considerably more even if partially hidden by wings. And this bird's wings are folded neatly. The only other option would be an ivorybill that has genetically flawed coloration from being isolated genetically. But it would be more likely a pileated with strange markings I think. I say it should be analyzed from the red headed woodpecker angle first.
Odds are extremely high that it's a Pileated or a Red-headed woodpecker. Take enough low-quality photos of Pileateds or Red-headed woodpeckers and you'll get some shots that don't really look like quite right.

Noel Snyder in 1979 had this sighting, published before the current controversy: The bird flew up to the vertical trunk of a pine only a few yards distant, and I could plainly see that it was a very large woodpecker with distinct large white secondary triangles on its folded wings, the most diagnostic field mark of the ivory-bill in distinguishing it from the somewhat similar Pileated Woodpecker.

Had the bird flown on immediately after I detected it, I would have been forever sure that I had seen a living Ivory-bill.

Even more plausible than Bill's analysis that it's likely an IBWO is that his analysis is flawed, like the Cornell paper which was riddled with errors and misinterpretations, some of them admitted by Cornell.

The claim that the current video shows an IBWO is HUGE. The claim that it's a poor quality shot of a common woodpecker is much more plausible.

But it's the same old story, isn't it?
Don't accuse the skeptics of rejecting the images before thorough study. Everyone knows what a picture of a real IBWO will look like if and when someone gets one. Until then people who spend a great deal of time trying to analyze fuzzy inconclusive images need to get a life. I take bad pictures of birds all the time. I usually delete them while still in the camera and if not when I am downloading them to my computer. I certainly don't send them around to other people to ask them to interpret them for me.
Here are a couple of links to red headed shots in similar poses, not like the "similar" pose they purport on their site.




Notice particularly the white straps on the third one.

This bird was too far away and too enlarged to interpret it into a large woodpecker, and if you look at the main picture with BOTH birds you can clearly see the bird is much smaller than a pileated, it simply is not that far behind in distance. And the instrument as Bill Pullium said, read a distance that would make the bird much smaller than a pileated. It is too easy to blame the distance reading as wrong.
this is soooooooooooo wrong on so many levels

but brilliant with it

Go Bill!
The second of RHWO links provided is bad. The "straps"in the third image look nothing like the ones on the putative IBWO.

Further clarification about the size of the bird is needed, and until it is, my mind is open.

The admittedly "lousy" Reconyx image #2 is actually more compelling to me, as both dorsal stripes and the white shield are apparent in the enlargement. I'm hoping that someone can do further analysis of that image.

And to go back to critical thinking, lousy cameras yield lousy images. That has nothing to do with whether Ivorybills exist or not.
Anon 1:59 --

The match of any of those images with the mystery bird is actually pretty poor. The proportions of head, neck, and body are not even close, and the configuration of the white on the neck doesn't even approximate what is in the Sheridan image. Sure you have red, white, and black in very roughly the same arrangement, but that is about the extent of it. Line them up side by side and the resemblance becomes much weaker. Believe me I went 18 rounds trying to make that bird into a Red-headed without any luck at all. The biggest problem other than the morphology is that the mystery bird seems to show, pretty distinctly, black in front of the white neck stripe above what appears to be the wing. I haven't been able to find any way to twist a redheaded to get this to happen, where the white on the breast (not neck; there is no white on a redheaded's neck)) of a redheaded is stretched into an apparent neck stripe with a significant width of black on both sides of it. Overall, the neck stripe is the stumbling block I keep hitting trying to force that bird to be any of the common species.

I believe I never said I thought this bird was probably an Ivorybill. I believe I said that if the Ivorybill weren't such an unlikely option it would be the best fit. But in the real circumstances, given the battling unlikelihoods, I haven't taken a firm stand on where I think this bird lands in the improbability matrix, at a scientifically justifiable level.

I also don't see how you can discern how much farther the rear bird is than the front bird from a single 2 dimensional image. There we get into another part of the improbability matrix where the likelihood of a measurement error seems greater than the likelihood of a totally bizarre distortion of a redheaded. Eventually a physical measurement (rather than an optical one) will be taken, and if that still shows the bird to be Redheaded sized all the improbabilities get adjusted drastically.

No one is likely to be able to make an indisputable Ivorybill out of this bird; that is a given. Actually, I don't think anyone will be able to make an indisputable anything out of this bird, in the end.

By the way, y'all are welcome to comment directly on my own blog, if you are willing to stop hiding in your anonymous shadows.

P.S. I think "mystery bird #1" is a Red-headed Woodpecker, and said as much in my original review of it. Just in case you think I am always making Ivorybills out of every imperfect image anyone shows me...
To Bill P.

I offered the red headed links to offer a different perspective. I still believe it is a red headed woodpecker. I think it IS easy to differetiate distance by following branches from the tree that the pileated is on. It is not that difficult, it is more easy to SAY that distance cannot be differentiated. But if one takes the time to follow the branches from tree to tree it is easy to see the mystery bird is not that far behind the pileated. Regarding the straps on the red heads, my point is that there are a plethora of pictures on google that show straps in various angles. To the contrary, it is more of a stretch to say that this is an IBWO with no visible straps than to say it is a red headed woodpecker.

For the record, i think mystery bird number two looks very much like an ivory bill to me.

Regarding the distortion, we saw this on Mike Collins' video stills. His bird looked like it had a thread for a neck. I think his looks more like an IBWO than mystery bird 3.

I hope someone will analyze mystery bird two, this looks like a better candidate to me and it impresses me much more than number three.

I hope they keep after it.
Even trying to account for apparent narrowing of the neck by blurring, focus, white bleed, etc, I still find the shape far from anythign that it seems realistic to me that a Redheaded could show; also, if the outer half of the neck were blurred out, that would take the "white strap" out too. The blurring and bleed are less dramatic here than in Collins' video, though there is definitely some. And in that case you started with a Pileated, which is a narrow-necked bird already. However, if the bird does turn out to be Red-headed sized after a confirmatory distance measurement, that will have to be the explanation, no matter how unlikely it seems at the present.

As for distance, the mystery bird is in a different tree than the Pileated, so I am not sure how one can trace branch-to-branch between the two. All I feel comfortable determining is that it is in the rearmost depth stratum (other than the sky). Whether that is 40% farther away or 80% farther away I see no way to judge from the image alone.

I remember having some issues with bird #2, but I can't remember what they were. It might have just been the lack of sharp contrast between the dark and the light. It has been a long time since I last saw that image!

Work at the site continues, there is more than what has been shared publicly; in fact I am sure there is more than what has been shared with me privately as well. I'm just an external reviewer, not a crew member.
"The sightings were monthly, around full moons"

now that's either amusing or useful, depending on your point of view. Given that the bird(s) occured on full moons in an area of 200-yards diameter you'd think they would have been conclusively documented either by multiple-observer sightings by skeptical birders/scientists or proper photographs or through tape-luring, obvious undeniable calling, heck - even a breeding pair! That level of occurence is not fortune - that's a stakeout. A better one than for a lot of the world's very rare birds that are seen and documented.

The pics are unidentifiable to species level with the necessary confidence limits but that doesn't make them anything 'interesting', as Bill said. They're just very bad pics of common birds - as far as rational debate allows anyway. Don't try to shoe-horn an identification out of them.

If there was anything in this situation, the birds would have been thoroghly studied and documented. As it is, it's now two years later and let me guess, the bird(s) is/are no longer there.

It was somehow inevitable that this would happen all over again. This time however the 'excitement' will be muted and contained except among those who want to believe. I await 'rigourous analyses' with baited breath.
Bill P.

I appreciate the discussion. And your point is well taken that they have more information than released. They could be sitting on a smoking gun and wanted to see how things are these days regarding reactions. I await more info with anticipation.
In response to the addendum...

I still don't see how you can get that shape. There is fairly fine-scale vegetation visible very close to the bird on the lefthand border up against the sky, suggesting that the bleed of the bright sky hasn't eaten much of this bird's profile away. That leaves an awfully bif black body relative to the red head. Plus, if it had its head stretched up like that to preen, wouldn't the neck be red, not black? The red on a Red-headed extends completely down the nape and onto the upper breast, there is no black on the neck at all. The bill as white stripe is conceivable; it seems to bend but that could be an illusion. Still the rest of the arrangement of red seems wrong, and there's nowhere near enough of it.

A couple of people have sent me photos of real, historical Ivorybills today that show the dorsal stripe obscured by the wing.
Robot --

Good to know we have finally met the person who is responsible for deciding what we are allowed to find "interesting" and what we are allowed to discuss in our own free time.
Followup on the "bad pics of common birds" idea...

If indeed it is a bad pic of a common bird, as it may well be, then it must be a bad pic of one particular common bird, not just some generic "common bird." It seems to pretty much be down to two choices. if this is indeed the case, then every feature of the image should be demonstrably consistent with one of these two common birds, with reasonable allowances for reasonable imaging artifacts and distortions. OK, so, which one is it? Can anyone out there demonstrate point by point how the arrangement of pixels of this image can reasonable be explained IN TOTAL by either a Pileated or a Red-headed Woodpecker? Many good folks have been trying for over a year without coming up with a fully satisfactory answer, but that doesn't mean one doesn't exist. Noisy data is not no data, there are discernable "datums" in there and there is a way that they were all created, each and every one of them, by one individual bird of one actual species interacting with one real camera. Maybe it can't be narrowed down to just one, but still there must be AT LEAST one species that can fully explain everything in the image. OK, folks... so which species is it? Be sure to show your work.

Although, perhaps this is all premature until we have a set of confirmatory distance measurements. That would rule out one of the two "common species," and the task would just be to show how the other one could have created this image.

Lets just hope none of these trees have fallen in all the storms over the last two years.
With due respect, I find it fascinationg that discussion is not allowed over at the ibwo research forum. The admin, in my humble opinion only, is doing a disservice by not allowing it. I do thank Cyberthrush for allowing comments here though.
just to be clear and fair, IBWO Res. Forum DOES allow discussion, but framed/directed in a somewhat defined way. Those who set up that Forum wished to serve specific purposes (overlapping but also different from this blog) and run their discussions accordingly -- I understand what you're saying, but wouldn't want the impression left that NO discussion takes place over there, because it does (heated debate does NOT).
Yes, I agree somewhat. There are some brilliant people that visit there. I think they can still filter the crap out. But it would be nice to have all of these people giving their opinions and maybe even some constructive analysis. But having my own posts deleted there I can say they have no grey area it is all black and white. No pun intended.
But having my own posts deleted there I can say they have no grey area it is all black and white.

Sounds to me like The Researcher's Forum has a manichean world-view and I'm not bloviating here.
The researchers' forum was created because of abusive discussions about IBWO evidence at birdforum. Although the abusive people are not at the researchers' forum, the moderation there is still strict. Since the researchers' forum operates under the assumption of the birds' existence (and many there can personally testify as much), whether or not a picture is actually IBWO isn't the primary concern. Of greater concern is learning more about the species, so the judgment at the researchers' forum is that the risks of an "is it/is it not" discussion outweigh the benefits.
"Since the researchers' forum operates under the assumption of the birds' existence (and many there can personally testify as much), whether or not a picture is actually IBWO isn't the primary concern. Of greater concern is learning more about the species, so the judgment at the researchers' forum is that the risks of an "is it/is it not" discussion outweigh the benefits."

But if the IBWO is to be studied shouldn't it's existance be ascertained in a given area? And how can you study and learn about an animal unless it has been ascertained to be habitating a given area.

This revelation could be amazing if it is true. And being able to say the bird in photo 3 is without a doubt an IBWO would be terrific. But all anyone is going to be able to do is guess unless some open critical analysis is done. And the leaders of the research forum are not allowing that. It's been a whole day and there are 3 relatively insignificant posts there. Great minds need to be heard. And moderation can be done in moderation.
"But if the IBWO is to be studied shouldn't it's existance be ascertained in a given area? And how can you study and learn about an animal unless it has been ascertained to be habitating a given area."

As the authors themselves attest, the photo isn't indicative of whether the Ivory-bill is present at the undisclosed location much less if it persists or not. The authors and the state's Department of Natural Resources are in the area trying to track the birds and learn about them.
Sounds to me like The Researcher's Forum has a manichean world-view and I'm not bloviating here.

Sounds like I hit a nerve. . .and you seem incapable of staying on topic.

The moderation policies on that forum have nothing to do with this subject, and I have nothing to do with those policies. In fact, I've had some disputes with the moderators about them.

But back to the topic at hand, I see these images as inconclusive but suggestive. As I said before, I think
"Mystery Bird #2" is the most suggestive, although a determination that the bird in the color image is too big to be a RHWO would change that. Otherwise, I'm more or less on the same page as Cyberthrush.

There are now a couple of sound files up on the site. Apparently these are samples. Again, I think they're inconclusive: the kent sounds good, but it's only one note. I'd like to see some analysis. The rapping sounds certainly seem powerful, but Pileateds can be quite loud too. None of the rapping sounds like communication. I hope they recorded more kents and some double knocks or other communicative rapping, but as it is I'm not terribly impressed.

One thing strikes me as odd, I haven't seen any mention of actual IBWO sightings on the website. Apparently, two large woodpeckers were seen when the rapping was recorded, but there's nothing to suggest they were identifiable. I wonder whether there were sightings and field notes, and if so, whether they'll be made available.
I see these images as inconclusive but suggestive.

I do too. Except they are more suggestive of how people can see what they want to see.

The pattern continues. It's another case where a True Believer had a camera running and they later discover what they believe to be an Ivory-bill in the shot. Once again it will prove to be inconclusive. Once again Believers are thrilled. History shows that this will all fade away. It happens over and over, for nearly a human lifetime now, and every time the True Believers think this time is different. This time might be the Real Deal.

It's like someone crying wolf! and the villagers rushing out to save the poor child but now no wolf is there. After it happens enough times no one is interested. It would be in the Believers best interests to keep this kind of evidence to themselves because even if the bird existed these fuzzy photos are eroding their credibility.
I probably belong in what you call the "true believer" camp; I don't rely on epithets to characterize the entire community of skeptics. . .that courtesy should run both ways. If you read my posts, I'm clearly not "thrilled" (I'm not sure who is) and have expressed open-minded skepticism about the data.

And I'd still like to see some substantive discussion of that data from a variety of perspectives, along the lines of what Bill Pulliam has done.
yes, no one really seems to be bothered this time, aside from a bit of 'analysis' here - we've seen it all before. No birds have been found there. It just looks ridiculous.

It kept returning over 11 months to a small area and no one has documented it properly? Analyse that.
As a red-headed woodpecker, I think it's got a very massive chest, too large of a white shield with no black edge along the wing or black projecting primaries, and an aberrant black belly and neck. Someone oughta compare the black:white ratios and the ratio of the bird's chest to that of the pileated. If this is an ivory-bill, there is no problem with the absence of the white dorsal stripe; it seems rather clear that the white neck stripe, which is crisp and curvy indeed, disappears into the bird's shoulder.
A few things here, and not gonna be as gentle as the last time I tried to make this first point...

The Red-headed Woodpecker hypothesis is really untenable, unless we are forced by accurate size measurements to go that way. Even under those circumstances, I'm not sure that is the route I would use to explain the mystery bird. The neck on a Red-headed Woodpecker is RED, not black. There is no black or white on the neck at all to get stretched and distorted in to a white stripe on black background. The red goes down, uninterrupted, to the base of the nape and on to the upper breast. Those "white straps" on the shoulders are breast feathers protruding from under the folded wing. They will not stretch into a neck stripe no matter how hard you pull. Same with the black on the back; that's the bird's mantle and you can't stretch that into a neck either. Even if the white stripe is something other than plumage on the mystery bird, the neck is still quite plainly black, not red. So ignore the size and shape issues, stretch a Red-headed's neck until just before it snaps, and you still won't get a black neck. Call it critical thinking, birding knowledge, whatever; that bird is not a Red-headed Woodpecker.

And on the topic of birding knowledge.. the thing about all you contributors who post anonymously... since we don't know who you are, we have no idea if you have EVER set foot outside with binoculars in hand learning to identify birds, much less if you have any actually developed skills and experience. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that when one is talking about identifying a bird, one's experience and background with identifying birds are important. Many of the postings I see here and elsewhere in the world of anonymous ivorybill chatter don't in fact seem to display a whole lot of general birding knowledge.

As for attempting to identify a bird from an imperfect image, this is hardly an unusual thing in the ornithological world. In fact it is done all the time. Bird Records Committees are often faced with imperfect shots of possible rarities; Birding magazine has a regular Photo Quiz feature, the whole point of which is to identify birds from photos that are either in odd plumages or inconveniently imperfect, with body parts blurred or obstructed, so one has to draw on deep information about the possibilities to make a distinction.

Cy, there is in fact an exact species match for this bird. Whether we can determine it is another question, but the bird itself is exceedingly unlikely to be of ambiguous identity. That may sound silly, but it is actually an important fact to remember.
This has become a perplexing puzzle hasn't it?

The problem I am having with it being an IBWO is that the head and neck just don't look like one. All we have to go on for comparison are the live images from the singer tract. And no picture in my Tanner book or otherwise show a bowling pin shaped bird/head with a completely red head and white neck band. Most pictures of male ivory-bills dead or alive show black throughout the middle of the head with varying degrees of read along the sides and yes, back of the head. The images that Bill Pulliam referred to in his blog on cyberthrush's blog give a good accounting of this. Living ivory-bills depicted in Tanner's book and in the film clip by Cornell show a completely different shaped head/neck. And perhaps body but who knows. I liked Cyberthrush's reference to a red head turning around to preen. My burning question though is this. If as emupilot said in his comment that the authors and the state's Department of Natural Resources are out there studying the birds is true, then why has no one gone back to measure this location to put an end to questions? Why doesn't anyone go there today? What is the hold up? This isn't something you send off to a lab and have to wait for results on. If this photo has been analyzed for the last year or so then why in the last year or so has no one gone and measured the distance? I would like to hear more from the authors of the site.
"we have no idea if you have EVER set foot outside with binoculars in hand learning to identify birds"

Much of the discussion from the people wanting to bring back a bird from extinction (on the basis of photo interpretation) makes me think they have never set foot in reality with or without binoculars.

Identifying birds from imperfect images may not be an "unusual thing" but that does not mean that is is worthwhile thing. The fact Birding magazine has a regular photo quiz shows just how trivial the exercise of photo interpretation is. A hobby magazine trying to sell things to people with that hobby will do most anything to engage their readership and sell advertising space.
Anon 11:13:

Thank you. You have just confirmed that you know nothing about birds, birding, or bird ID. "Birding" is the flagship journal about the field ID of North American birds. And you do not consider careful ID of birds using whatever means are available to be "worthwhile." Why are you even here, then?

Anon 11:02:

One should not assume that something isn't happening just because it has not been announced. And one should also not assume that access to these sorts of habitats is trivial, given roadlessness and varying water levels. Head shape is an issue for either of the two large crested woodpeckers; I mentioned in my writeup a pair of scenarios that I thought could create that apparent head/crest appearance with either species.
Regarding my comment above about the mystery bird #3 not looking like an ivory-bill here are two pictures ironically posted by fangsheath over at the research forum. These are links to the birds photographed in the Singer tract. Notice especially in the second picture how the male has alot of black on his head with the red coming around the sides. Do any of these depictions or any others for that matter look like mystery bird #3?


Also pay attention to the white shield we hear so much about. None of the pictures I have of living ivory-bills show a perfect straight line across the top of the shield.

I would love to hear comments.
Anon 11:27:

The only way it works for an Ivorybill is if the bird is looking directly away, so we only see the back of the crest and the red extending down the nape (which it does on an ivorybill, quite a ways, much farther than on a Pileated). Plus the shape of the crest must be blurred either by motion, "fluffing," or photographic effects. Yes, I know, that's a lot of conditions; but we have just as many arbitrary and unlikely circumstances to make a Pileated out of it.

I have seen some shots where the top of the white shield on one wing of an Ivorybill looks pretty straight. There are other oddities about the placement of that shield on the mystery bird, which might be cause by the intervening vegetation or by the wing not being entirely folded. But at least an Ivorybill actually does HAVE a white shield in the first place; no Pileated with a white shield has ever been firmly documented anywhere. Plus keep in mind that the image is not crystal sharp.

It's a difficult image full of conundrums.
Bill P:
Actually I am here because I care about about natural areas and species conservation and the early 21st century IBWO fiasco did much to show how people chasing money and fame can hurt both of those causes. I stop by this site to assure myself that forces that sold the "IBWO rediscovery" are not getting any new traction.

As to Birding being a "journal" - it is clearly a hobby "magazine". That is why they call it "Birding Magazine". There is nothing wrong with reading magazines. I do it frequently in my spare time. And for the millions of people who enjoy birding, Birding Magazine provides information and community building. This is not an uncommon thing for hobby magazines to do. The knitting and gardening community have similar magazines.
Thanks Bill for commenting on my points. It is full of conundrums. It just doesn't look like an IBWO. But again, as you pointed out pileateds do not ave the white shield. Seriously though, do you have any insight on the follow-up regading the distance being measured?
The features in the photo simply cannot be determined with any confidence one way or another. That's the way it is and that's the way it will stay.

As a matter of fact, taken out of context, there is no way of determining if the images are even a bird. Even in context I can't be sure it's a bird and not part of a party balloon caught in the tree, or a doctored photo or a decoy, for that matter.

Check out this photo: http://www.ivorybillphotoproject.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/Red_Headed_perched_color_enlarged.38175213_large.jpg

The neck looks pretty black to me. The reason it does is it's a poor photo and poor photos are misleading and to some of us that's obviously why poor photos rather than good photos are always presented as evidence of living Ivory-bills in recent decades. Show me a good Ivory-bill photo and I'll show you an old Ivory-bill photo.
11:45: But if you know or care nothing about birds per se, and you belittle the process of attempting to identify them, how in the world are you qualified to judge who is making sense and who is spouting nonsense in this situation? You must just be accepting and rejecting the opinions of others without really being able to examine critically and with an appropriate knowledge and experience base how they were arrived at; that's not science. That's more like the "Intelligent Design" movement. Or like talk-radio politics.

Of all the "threats" to conservation in the U.S., this is *trivial.* In the mainstream world it has been almost forgotten; a flash in the pan that stopped being fun years ago. How about the ill-conceived corn-based biofuels movement? How about horrible science education in schools? How about the fact that hardly anyone under 30 ever even deliberately interacts with the natural world anymore, living in a world of synthetic virtual experience? How about mountain-top removal coal mining? These seem like far more critical matters if your primary concern is saving the U.S. conservation movement, not harassing other people about a topic on which you are not even especially well-informed; people who for the most part are ardent conservationists and who ourselves also work hard in many other arenas to promote the same big-picture goals as you.
About the head-turned preening hypothesis:

This one doesn't work either, on more reflection. If the bird were a redheaded (which it can't be, see previously), you'd see a red neck, not black. If the bird were an ivorybill, you'd see the big black crown. If the bird were a Pileated, you'd see all that white on the face and neck.

The white stripe may be an artifact somehow, but that still leaves us with that big fat expanse of black across the birds neck below the red crest that hasn't been even approximated in any photo of a Pileated I have been able to find.
Bill P:
We likely share the same concerns about our natural world but I was able to see first hand how the "IBWO discovery" distracted people from real environmental concerns and how Cornell and TNC took funds from reality-based environmental groups and actions.
I am sorry if the people who interpreted those images gave image interpretation a bad name. They rushed to print, the public and government before they had real evidence that the species was extant. There are far too many real conservation issues that need to be addressed before we can go down that road again.

The whole head is very dark in that image. Try a shot where the head looks as brilliant red as on the Sheridan photo for a real comparison. The three linked to earlier on this thread all show how the red feathers extend all the way down the neck, even when it is stretched, and actually overlap onto the black mantle feathers some.


And this is just an internet-based discussion of a photo that everyone agrees is not definitive proof of anything. No one is promoting a national policy here; we're looking at some woodpecker pictures. If you have beefs with Cornell and TNS and FWS, don't take them out by belittling and insulting us.

You might care to note that all three of those organizations (plus the wildlife/natural resources people for the appropriate State gov't) have known about this image for many months, and none of them have made any use of it for any policy or fundraising purposes.
Here's what you said: ...stretch a Red-headed's neck until just before it snaps, and you still won't get a black neck.

The very first Red-headed photo I looked at showed black where there isn't any in real life. It's far more likely that Mystery Bird #3 is a redheaded woodpecker with it's neck in a shadow while it's head is in the bright sunlight (or some other simple but common trick of lighting or photography,) than for it to be a photo of bird that is extremely rare if not extinct. And that's just one of the many plausible explanations that are much more likely that it being an Ivory-bill.

You might care to note that all three of those organizations (plus the wildlife/natural resources people for the appropriate State gov't) have known about this image for many months, and none of them have made any use of it for any policy or fundraising purposes.

For obvious reasons. You can bet they would if it were a great photo of an Ivory-bill.
I can't even tell who is who here; are you the one who reposted the photo from the original site? Or someone else talking about another photo?

OK, now explain the white neck stripe and pin-head pencil-necked shape? How many tricks of photography are you going to have to invoke to force a bird that doesn't even vaguely resemble this image to match it?

The mystery bird shows no contrast at all between neck and back, and then a dramatically contrasting fluffy red head atop the black neck. It's not a red-headed.

There is a hopeless jumble of people named "anonymous" posting here. Given that I have no clue who y'all are, what birding background any of you have, or even which one of you has been saying what, I don't see much value in trying to keep replying to your comments.
"we have no idea if you have EVER set foot outside with binoculars in hand learning to identify birds"

Ah, the irony. Have you read this thread Bill?
Bill P.

My name is Frank. I am from NJ. I posted yesterday at 1:02pm, 1:42pm, 2:00pm, 3:04pm, 3:27pm, then today at 11:02, 11:27, 11:47. And this one. I will sign mine for now on. I don't wish to get confused with the others.
It would certainly be a good idea to send it to frontiers of identification. Though they may be very wary of hosting such a discussion - it has got short shrift in the past.
OK, now explain the white neck stripe and pin-head pencil-necked shape? How many tricks of photography are you going to have to invoke to force a bird that doesn't even vaguely resemble this image to match it?

No explanation needed. I don't know what I'm looking at and neither does anyone else. I've seen hundreds of Pileateds and Red-headed woodpeckers and like you know perfectly well what they look like. I've never seen an Ivory-bill and don't expect to.

Of course it vaguely resembles a Red-headed woodpecker, presumably common in the area. Or a Pileated, also presumably common. Or an Ivory-bill, extinct or extremely rare, or many other things people may want to see in it. That's why it's practically useless and yet another Rorschach test.

Don't you think it's likely that if Red-headed Woodpeckers were The Grail Bird that people would be analyzing the photo in the same way with some concluding it is likely a Red-headed Woodpecker?
3:35: Actually what you are doing is just being casually dismissive and refusing to address the issues raised in the discussion. This is a silly and transparent rhetorical device that is used when you are in fact just defending an a priori position regardless of any new information. It's parallel with the "science never proves anything" argument used by the creationists to avoid addressing scientific information. And no, absolutely not, no one (with any birding knowledge) would be trying to turn this image into a Red-headed Woodpecker if that were the rare species. It never would have even been taken notice of if the Ivorybill and Redheaded's circumstances were exchanged. You may not be able to make any sense of the image, but many other people are more discerning.

Only one of the external reviewers, who were bona fide birders, raised the Red-headed possibility; and that was only because of the size estimate. The consensus was it could not be a Red-headed, hence the size estimate is likely inaccurate and new, more reliable distance measures should be made.

Re: ID frontiers; I think there would be no point in doing that until we have good distance numbers. If those numbers rule out Ivorybill, there is nothing to talk about. If they are in the Ivorybill range, then it might be a much more interesting discussion.
Bill P says: "This is a silly and transparent rhetorical device that is used when you are in fact just defending an a priori position regardless of any new information."

The critical word would be "information", Bill. There is every reason for rational people to be wary of the smoke and mirrors used by people interested in the IBWO. You cannot expect to not have people find the current discussion amusing but also dangerous, given what happened a few years ago.
In my opinion, with images this poor the debate is more about human nature and perceptions than bird identification. That's not being dismissive and that's not a transparent rhetorical device. It’s reality.

This is a silly and transparent rhetorical device that is used when you are in fact just defending an a priori position regardless of any new information.

If Cornell or anyone else had gotten some quality video this wouldn't be an issue, so please don’t insult me with statements like that. The fact that these kinds of images are the best we’ve got should speak volumes.
Since nobody is flatly asserting Mystery bird #3 is an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, this is technically an academic discussion. There will be no grand verdict on the last four years based on what we think of the photo. It is a challenge to our identification skills made particularly interesting by a plausible identification as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

For anyone who does not want to bother because we won't have a definitive result, there is no need to participate. Bill Pulliam has spent alot of time to do careful analysis of the photo to determine what identifications are plausible and what are not. Although I think an accurate distance measurement would greatly simplify the discussion, I would love to see different perspectives from people willing to actually try to identify the bird.

BTW, is it really that hard to click on the Name/URL button and enter something so we can keep track of who is saying what?
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