Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stealth Woodpeckers

Despite all the publicity generated by reported sightings (a few even supported by video or audio evidence) in Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana since 2004, the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) continues to elude one of North America’s largest and most extensive bird-monitoring databases: eBird, “North America’s destination for birding on the Web” and one of the lynchpins of the Avian Knowledge Network.

More than 11 million bird observations currently populate the eBird database, but none of them are of Ivory-bills, which is especially curious considering that eBird was the brainchild of John Fitzpatrick and is maintained at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO). And it was investigators associated with the CLO, of course, who made seven independent sightings of Ivory-bills in Arkansas. Why doesn’t the infamous Ivory-bill of the Luneau video (the one accepted as evidence of the continued presence of Ivory-bills in Arkansas by the Arkansas Bird Records Committee) or any of the seven associated sightings appear in the eBird database?

I understand that eBird is a citizen-science database, and as such contains only the observations submitted to it by willing volunteers. Okay, so maybe the 14 sightings reported by the Geoffrey Hill’s Auburn team in the Florida Panhandle and the untold sightings claimed by Mike Collins (aka Fishcrow) in the Pearl River Basin of Louisiana have never been submitted to eBird. I can accept that. But what of the seven sightings associated with Cornell’s 2004-2005 search effort in Arkansas? It seems to me that CLO would have a vested interest in ensuring that those sightings (if considered valid) became part of eBird. I’m curious as to why they have not.

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