A Vanished Bird Might Live On, or Not. The Video Is Grainy.

If there’s new hope, it is blurry. What’s sure: the curler coaster story of the ivory-billed woodpecker, an impressive chicken whose presumed extinction has been punctuated by a collection of contested rediscoveries, goes sturdy.

The newest twist is a peer-reviewed examine Thursday within the journal Ecology and Evolution presenting sighting studies, audio recordings, path digicam photos and drone video. Collected during the last decade in a Louisiana swamp forest, the exact location omitted for the birds’ safety, the authors write that the proof suggests the “intermittent however repeated presence” of birds that look and behave like ivory-billed woodpeckers.

But are they?

“It’s this cumulative proof from our multiyear search that leaves us very assured that this iconic species exists, and it persists in Louisiana and doubtless different locations as properly,” mentioned Steven C. Latta, one of many examine’s authors and director of conservation and discipline analysis on the National Aviary, a nonprofit chicken zoo in Pittsburgh that helps lead a program that searches for the species.

But Dr. Latta acknowledges that no single piece of proof is definitive, and the examine is rigorously tempered with phrases like “putative” and “potential.”

Therein lies the issue. As one knowledgeable wrote throughout a earlier ivory invoice go-round: “The physique of proof is just as sturdy as the only strongest piece — ten cups of weak espresso don’t make a pot of sturdy espresso.”

This time, two consultants who’ve been skeptical of earlier sightings mentioned they remained unconvinced.

“The hassle is, it is all very poor video,” mentioned Chris Elphick, a professor of conservation biology on the University of Connecticut who research birds. Pileated and red-headed woodpeckers, amongst different species, can look loads like ivory payments from a distance or from sure angles. Light can play video games with the attention. Audio is simple to misconstrue.

“I do not suppose this adjustments very a lot, frankly,” he mentioned. “I’d like to be flawed.”

A spokeswoman, Christine Schuldheisz, mentioned the company didn’t touch upon exterior research however was working in the direction of a ultimate choice, which is predicted later this yr.

According to the authors of the brand new examine, eradicating federal safety could be unhealthy for any remaining ivory payments. But different scientists say there is a steep value to maintain them on the endangered species checklist.

“Whether or not restricted federal conservation funds needs to be spent on chasing this ghost, as an alternative of saving different genuinely endangered species and habitats, is an important situation,” mentioned Richard O. Prum, a professor of ornithology at Yale.

Ivory payments fell into steep decline as Americans logged their habitat, old-growth swampy forests of the Southeast. Few remained by the Thirties, however a scientific expedition found a nest in Louisiana, in one of many largest remaining swaths of habitat. The land, known as the Singer Tract, was leased for logging. Conservation teams tried to buy the rights, however the firm refused to promote. The final broadly accepted ivory invoice sighting within the United States was in 1944, a lone feminine, seen in her roost with the forest cleared round her.

Since then, purported sightings have sparked pleasure and backlash. One, in 1967, was heralded on the entrance web page of The New York Times. Twenty years later, one other one, in Cuba, the place a subspecies or comparable species could or could not grasp on, was additionally reported on Page One. In 2002, searchers in Louisiana thought they’d captured audio of the ivory invoice’s distinctive double rap, however a pc evaluation decided the sound to be distant gunshots. A reported sighting in Arkansas in 2004 led to a paper in Science and flurry of chicken tourism, however that proof was closely criticized.

To Dr. Elphick, a birder in addition to a scientist, one of the vital telling outcomes is what a lot effort has not yielded: a single clear {photograph}.

“There are these extremely uncommon birds that stay in the course of the Amazon that individuals can get good, identifiable pictures of,” Dr. Elphick mentioned. “And but folks have spent a whole lot of hundreds of hours looking for and {photograph} ivory-billed woodpeckers within the United States. If there’s actually a inhabitants on the market, it is inconceivable to me that nobody might get a great image.”

But Dr. Latta, the examine co-author, insisted that he had seen one clearly together with his personal eyes. He was within the discipline in 2019 to arrange recording models, and he figures he spooked the chicken. As it flew up and away, he bought a detailed, unimpeded view of its signature markings.

“I could not sleep for, like, three days,” Dr. Latta mentioned. “It was as a result of I had this chance and I felt this accountability to ascertain for the remainder of the world, or at the least the conservation world, that this chicken really does exist.”

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