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Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis


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Ivory-billed Woodpecker, male
© Albert Earl Gilbert

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Family: Picidae, Woodpeckers view all from this family

Description Similar to Pileated Woodpecker but with a pale bill, striking white secondaries, and a white line on the side of the back. (Note: A digitally manipulated photograph of a Pileated Woodpecker is shown here to give an impression of what an Ivory-billed would look like.)

Dimensions Length: 19-21" (48.5-53.5 cm)

Endangered Status The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is classified as an endangered species throughout its range in the U.S. and Cuba, and for decades had been presumed by many experts to be extinct. The largest of North American woodpeckers, the Ivory-bill once ranged throughout the southeastern U.S. in old-growth forests. It was brought to the brink of extinction by the logging of the forests that made up its habitat, and by hunters, who sought it for food. There had not been a substantiated sighting of the bird in the United States from the mid-20th century until 2004.

Credible sightings in 1999 in Louisiana raised the hope of some that these magnificent birds still existed. During a search in early 2002 a recording was made of what could have been an Ivory-billed Woodpecker drumming, and some trees were found that showed encouraging signs of stripped bark and hole excavation. As yet, however, searchers have been unable to confirm the Louisiana sightings or find definitive evidence that Ivory-bills have been feeding in the region.

In 2004, however, reports began to come in of a male Ivory-bill in a deep forest swamp in Arkansas. Confirmation sightings and a video tape made it official in April 2005: The Ivory-billed Woodpecker still exists. Sightings have been made only of a male, who appears to be a healthy vigorous individual. The investigation continues, and scientists hope to determine whether there are other individuals, especially breeding pairs, or whether all the sightings have been of a single male, who is possibly the last of his kind. One thing is clear: the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, for all its size and magnificence, is remarkably good at keeping out of the way of humans.

Discussion Huge and iconic woodpecker that once lived in forests of southern U.S.; sadly, now almost certainly extinct thanks to habitat loss and degradation.