Discoveries

DISCOVERIES

April 29, 2005

ON THE WINGS OF A COMEBACK?

-The ivory-billed woodpecker, a striking bird that once flourished in the forests of the Southeast but was thought to have become extinct, reportedly has been sighted in eastern Arkansas, says a Cornell University researcher.

John W. Fitzpatrick, in a paper released yesterday, said there have been several independent sightings of a bird that appears to be an ivory-billed woodpecker.

A video clip of one bird, though blurry, shows key features, including the size and markings, Fitzpatrick reported.

"The bird captured on video is clearly an ivory-billed woodpecker. Amazingly, America may have another chance to protect the future of this spectacular bird and the awesome forests in which it lives," Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, said in a statement.

Once prized by Indians who believed that its bill possessed magical powers, the bird was also hunted in the late 19th and 20th centuries for its feathers, popular on ladies hats. Loss of habitat was its main threat.

The report was released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is publishing it in the journal Science, and announced by the Nature Conservancy.

The ivory-billed woodpecker, one of the largest such birds in the world, is one of six North American bird species thought to have become extinct since 1880. While somewhat rare, the bird ranged widely across the southeastern United States until logging eliminated many forests between 1880 and the 1940s.

Sometimes called the white-back, pearly bill, poule de bois and even Lord God bird, the ivory bill was known for the two-note rap of its bill as it ripped into tree bark in search of food.

There have been anecdotal reports of the birds, but the last conclusive sighting in continental North America was in 1944 in northern Louisiana. A subspecies of the bird has been reported in Cuba.

The new sightings have been in the Big Woods region of Arkansas and each involved a different person or group, Fitzpatrick said.

About 40 percent of the forest in the region is approaching maturity, and nearby land has been reforested in the last decade.

Fitzpatrick identified the bird by magnifying and analyzing individual frames of the video clip.

With a 3-foot wingspan, the bird is larger than a pileated woodpecker, which is similar in appearance, and has the black-and-white markings of the ivory-billed bird.

The Nature Conservancy, which has protected a large segment of land in the area, reported that the first sighting came on Feb. 11, 2004, by George Sparling of Hot Springs, Ark.

After learning of the sighting, Tim Gallagher of Cornell and Bobby Harrison of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., traveled to the area with Sparling and also sighted the bird. Other sightings followed, including one on April 25, 2004, in which David Luneau of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock videotaped the bird taking off from the trunk of a tree.

The Nature Conservancy reported 15 sightings of the bird in 7,000 hours of search time.

To see a video clip of the bird online, visit : http://wid.ap.org/video/woodpecker.mov --ASSOCIATED PRESS

Making music to conceive by?

Quick Takes

Many people discover that music can put them in the mood. But can it help them conceive?

A Long Island start-up is betting on it. The newly founded company, Pharmonics, has released the CD Conceive, aimed at helping women relax and increase their chances of conception.

The two-CD set, which sells for $29.95, has eight 15-minute segments of gentle music and sounds, such as strings, flutes and running water. Women are advised to listen for 15 minutes daily, four days before and after ovulation.

Hundreds of CDs on the market purport to help listeners relax. But only a few advertise aiding fertility. Musical therapists, meanwhile, are skeptical. Music is highly personalized, and what's relaxing to one might not soothe another.

Still, Pharmonics founder Sean Grace believes he's onto something. An accomplished musician who entered the Juilliard School of Music at 12, Grace now works on promoting the healing properties of music. He developed the CD in consultation with his wife, Kristen, an OB-Gyn.

Bottom Line: Scientific studies suggest a link between stress and infertility. So it probably couldn't hurt to tune into some soothing sounds. - Mary Beth Regan

Did you know ...

An average day of walking brings a force equal to several hundred tons to bear on your feet. The feet are more subject to injury than any other part of your body. Three-fourths of Americans experience foot problems at some time in their lives.

- American Podiatric Medical Association

In Brief

Warding off dementia

Older people who stay active in a variety of ways seem to have a better chance of warding off dementia than less active adults, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.

"It's not necessarily the energy you spend," said Dr. Constantine Lyketsos, the epidemiologist who led the study. "It's the variety that matters."

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