The Downfall of the IBW

Prior to the 19th Century, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker thrived in the vast forests of virgin timber throughout what is today the Southeastern U.S. (For a map of the Southeastern Forest during this time period, click here.)


  • Post Civil War: After federal laws protecting forests are relaxed in the 1870s, Northern timber companies begin logging the forests of the Southeast, destroying the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker's habitat. The forests are almost completely removed in the 40 years following the war. "Magazines were advertising to museums, saying 'You'd better get your specimen soon, because this bird will be extinct any day now," says bird photographer and Ivory-Billed expert Bobby Harrison.
  • 1900: For the first time, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is believed extinct.
  • 1924: An Ivory Billed Woodpecker is sighted in Osceola County, Fla. Photographer Arthur Allen follows up and shoots a picture of an IBW.
  • 1932: Disputing an IBW sighting in the Okefenokee Swamp, Naturalist Aldine R. Bird declares "the King is Dead," meaning, once again, the IBW is officially extinct.
  • 1932: Mason Spencer shoots an Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Tallulah, La., in the Singer Tract, a plot of forest land owned by the Singer Sewing Co.
  • 1932-1935: Arthur Allen and Mason Spencer conduct search in the Singer Tract. The search locates the bird, and photographs, movies and sound recordings are made. (To view video clips of this expedition, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, click here - fifth and sixth video on page.)
  • 1937-39: James Tanner conducts first modern study of the bird. Writes "Ivory-Billed Woodpecker" as his thesis (bottom, right).
  • 1940: Despite offers for purchase, the Singer Sewing Co. levels the Singer Tract.
  • 1944: Last known sighting of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker in the Singer Tract is reported.
  • 1948: Photographer and ornithologist John Dennis takes last known photo of an IBW in Cuba (right, top).
Dennis
Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology
This is the last known photograph of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, taken by John Dennis in 1948.



Tanner
Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology/
This book was written by James Tanner as his master's thesis in the 1930s and was the first extensive study of the bird. It was originally published by the National Audubon Society in 1942.