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Background: The apparent rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis in Arkansas, USA, previously feared extinct, was supported by video evidence of a single bird in flight (Fitzpatrick et al, Science 2005, 308:1460-1462). Plumage patterns and wingbeat frequency of the putative Ivory-billed Woodpecker were said to be incompatible with the only possible confusion species native to the area, the Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus.
Results: New video analysis of Pileated Woodpeckers in escape flights comparable to that of the putative Ivory-billed Woodpecker filmed in Arkansas shows that Pileated Woodpeckers can display a wingbeat frequency equivalent to that of the Arkansas bird during escape flight. The critical frames from the Arkansas video that were used to identify the bird as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker are shown to be equally, or more, compatible with the Pileated Woodpecker.
Conclusions: The identification of the bird filmed in Arkansas in April 2004 as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker is best regarded as unsafe. The similarities between the Arkansas bird and known Pileated Woodpeckers suggest that it was most likely a Pileated Woodpecker.