Saturday, March 14, 2009

Madness, indeed

NOTE: The image in question is now know to be a forgery.

The problem with Steve's Sheridan's 2007 woodpecker photo is not so much that it is too low quality to get meaningful information out of it. As bad bird photos go, it's not actually that hopelessly bad. There are quite a few features of the bird that seem to be real that can be gotten from it. The problem is that they do not make sense. There is no ID for this bird that does not require some hand-waving, some skirting around issues. For the most popular hypothesis, a Pileated, we have a neck that is wrong, and have to explain the white below the black as anomalous plumage, illusion, or neck-wrenching and gravity-defying contortions. For the most exciting hypothesis, where are the dorsal stripes? Is the red on the head right? For the least tenable ID, the Red-headed Woodpecker, we have all sorts of problems with shape and plumage. Curiouser and curiouser. Better measurements for the distances involved should rule out one or two of these options; however, if they leave the Red-headed as the "only" option I still don't think I will accept that and will be compelled to examine previously unexplored avenues.


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