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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Aug. 25) - Scientists publicly presented recordings Wednesday purportedly of the ivory-billed woodpecker and said the tape indicated there might be more than one of the rare bird in an eastern Arkansas swamp.


"It is the best tangible evidence so far that there could be more than one ivory-bill in the area," Russell Charif, a researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said in a statement.

The ivory-billed was once thought to be extinct until a bird expert spotted it in the swamps of southeast Arkansas last year.

The woodpecker sighting sparked controversy earlier this year after researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology published a paper that contained a grainy video clip of the striking bird - with its 3-foot wingspan and distinctive black-and-white markings - reportedly rediscovered in the Big Woods area of Arkansas.

Critics immediately challenged the bird's existence, saying the blurry videotape of a bird in flight wasn't enough evidence. Many skeptics were won over after the Cornell researchers sent doubters several recordings of sounds that suggested the bird's existence.

Wednesday marked the first time the audio was publicly played during the American Ornithologists' Union meeting in Santa Barbara.

The Cornell ornithologists made 18,000 hours of recordings, using equipment set out in various woods and swamplands near the Cache and White rivers in Arkansas last winter.

Scientists said the sounds were similar to ivory bills. One recording featured a series of distinctive nasally sounds that ivory bills make and another captured an exchange of double-rap sounds, which may indicate two ivory bills communicating with each other.

The ivory bill, last seen in 1944, is one of six North American bird species thought to have become extinct since 1880. The bird was prevalent across the southeastern United States at one time.

Since the woodpecker's rediscovery, federal agencies have promised millions to help preserve the bird's eastern Arkansas habitat in and around the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge.

John Fitzpatrick, lab director, said the ornithologists played their recordings of the ivory bill woodpecker and then played recording of related species of woodpeckers in South and Central America for comparison.

He said reaction from conference attendees seemed positive.


08/24/05 20:57 EDT