About Ivory Billed Woodpeckers

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

The SHORT STORY about Ivory Billed Woodpeckers

Once upon a time there were many Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the southern swamps. And then there were nearly none.

And then it seemed there were NONE.

For many years no one actually saw one of these Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and people believed they were extinct- Since 1944.Â

The Last Official “sightings” were in Louisiana in 1944, in Florida in the 1950′s, in Texas during the 1960′s.  Overall, birding specialists believed they had become EXTINCT. In the United States.

Then someone reported seeing one in 1970 and another possible sighting was in 1990, both in Louisiana.

And THEN it Happened In February, 2004 the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was sighted in Arkansas by Gene Sparling while canoeing in the National Wildlife Refuge at Cache River. This observation resulted in MANY people searching AND sighting the nesting areas and birds and even some photographs and video coverage of the event. This is news of national importance to ornithologists and the overall birding community. The call is out to continue gathering information and confirming sightings. The debate continues over whether the birds these people observed were instead Pileated Woodpeckers. (They look a lot a like.)

SO, the question is still hotly debated. Â Claims of sightings and disputes fly fast and furious at gatherings of birders every season. The official status of the IBW is Endangered, not Extinct. But there are still some people who believe it should be considered Extinct and doubt these more recent sightings.

Who would ever imagine that the swamps of eastern Arkansas would be the center of such national attention?

Even more astounding to me was discovering that some of the strongest birders in this fray have their headquarters on a small college campus in Huntsville, Alabama, less than an hour from where I live!

Lots of details about the people and the search are at the official Ivorybill website.

There is a really interesting children’s book written about the ivory-billed woodpecker championing the tale of possible return from extinction. It is a bit of an icon of hope for conservationists and birdwatchers. Perhaps has never really been truly gone.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker  Campephilus principalis Family  PicidaeÂ

Status Extinct OR Critically Endangered

If you were born after 1944 you have most likely never seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker which was named by Linnaeus in 1758.

Description:Â Â Â Â The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a large woodpecker resembling the Pileated Woodpecker.

It’s wingspan is about 30 inches, just less than 3 feet. The ivory-billed woodpecker ‘s body is about 20 inches tallÂ

and very lightweight.(  this lightweight trait is true for most birds)

Their bright red heads against their stark black and white bodies are clear identifiers in the right habitat.Â

 The female has a black head. They both have prominent crests.Â

 The most similar bird is the Pileated Woodpecker which is both smaller and darker and more widespread in forested areas.


Ivory-billed Woodpeckers live in selected southern swamps and nest in the cavities of trees.Â

Southern swamps were harvested widely after the Civil War and this had adverse effects on

available habitat for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Apparently to obtain enough food for adults and young they need a significant size area

(about 10 square miles) to find enough larvae and beetles or fruits and seeds.

Even when their population is healthy their numbers are low.Â

Habit/Behavior: Â

Ivory-billed woodpeckers are fascinating and mysterious even with their ephemeral sightings.Â

Not much is known about their behavior because they have been seen so rarely in the past few decades.

Shy and secretive birds of the swamp, the Ivory-billed woodpeckers are few in number and appear to mate for life.

Both male and female stay involved with raising and feeding the young. After about five weeks in the cavity nest

the young birds fledge but remain close to the parent birds who continue to feed them for another month or two

(somewhat like ravens).

Status:   Believe it or not, in these modern days the status of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is still a matter of dispute and discussion. This is the exciting part of the story.  The official designation is Critically ENDANGERED.

Though from 1944 to now sightings were so rare that they have been believed to be extinct. Â

Their population is minimal if it exists at all. It is endemic to southern swamps.

Habitat loss would be their greatest threat, along with a diminishing gene pool. Â

Click to see the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Conservation Print!

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Conservation Stamp Print Program

comment: I read an amazing story about an early explorer’s first encounter with the ivory-billed woodpecker! Alexander Wilson in the late 1700′s was in North Carolina, according to the record. He was recording the bird species in the area.(As most explorers of that time period, they observed birds up close and personal by shooting them and bringing them indoors to study and illustrate. Surely this practice was not helpful for the state of the species, but it was common practice at the time.) The Ivory-billed Woodpecker that he captured had only a slight wing wound, so he carried the bird inside his coat to the room where he was planning to draw it. The problem was the bird was NOT happy and was very LOUD and sounded like a pitiful child crying. That drew attention to him, some of the people were alarmed and others concerned. An innkeeper offered Wilson a room to care for the child. There is a LOT more to the tale. But I refer you to the book I read it in:


                                                                                      © bydpb, 2007

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