Sighting of rare woodpecker is questioned

Three biologists are questioning a claim by a bird expert of seeing an ivory-billed woodpecker -- a bird believed extinct in the United States.

That woodpecker had been presumed to have vanished from the swampy forests of southeast Arkansas more than 60 years ago.

If the challenge holds up, it would reportedly undermine not only a scientific triumph, but also significant new conservation expenditures in the region.

The paper questioning the discovery has been provisionally accepted by a peer-reviewed journal and might be published within a few weeks.

The New York Times said it confirmed the expected publication of the paper through interviews and e-mail exchanges with two authors of the challenge, Richard Prum of Yale University and Mark Robbins of the University of Kansas, both ornithologists.

The newspaper said the third author is Jerome Jackson, a zoologist at Florida Gulf Coast University and author of the book "In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker," published in 2004.

Jackson told the Times data presented thus far "do no more than suggest the possibility of the presence of an ivory-billed woodpecker."

A rebuttal is also to be published by the team reporting the discovery.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

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