A Look at the King:
The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

The third largest known woodpecker in the world, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker thrived in the bottomland forest of the Southeast, subsisting on a diet of beetle larvae found in dead and dying trees.

  1. Identification: The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has a number of distinguishing characteristics:
    • 18-20 inches tall
    • Wingspan of 31 inches
    • Jet-black body with white patch on the wings
    • When wings are folded, a white shield appears on the bird's back.
    • The Ivory-Billed is fairly similar to the smaller Pileated Woodpecker, so marks and calls are used to distinguish the two species.
  2. Habitat: The bird thrived from East Texas to North Carolina, from Southern Illinois through Florida, and south to Cuba prior to the 20th Century (For map, click here.) Today, the 24 million acres of forest in the Mississippi Delta has been reduced to 4 million scattered acres. (For map of IBW habitat post 1930, click here.)

    Recent sightings have been reported in Arkansas, Louisiana and Northern Florida.

  3. Behavior: The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has a flight pattern uncharacteristic of most species of woodpecker. They have a strong and direct flight, and typically fly above the trees to avoid navigating through branches.

    Researchers estimate Ivory-Bills have a territory of at least six square miles in size and live as long as 20 to 30 years.
  4. Distinguishing sounds: The call of the Ivory-Bill is a nasal-sounding "kent," often described as sounding similar to the toot of a tin horn. Ivory-Bills are also known for the unique double-knock they make when striking a tree with their beaks. Ornithologists believe this double-knock is used to announce its presence. (To visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Web site and listen to Ivory-Billed Woodpecker calls recorded in 1935, click here.)
Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology
This colorized photograph was taken by Arthur Allen in 1932.

Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology/David Allen
This photo of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was taken in the Singer Tract in Louisiana on a 1938 expedition.