The Quest for the Most Elusive Bird of All Time By Peter Suich
Ivory-billed Woodpecker The ivory-billed woodpecker, named for the color of its beak, is a large crow-sized bird of the U.S. and Cuba.Image taken by Arthur Allen in Singer Tract in 1935
The ivory-billed woodpecker was first described in 1712, by the Englishman Mark Catesby. From the early 1800s to the early 1900s, the bird was killed by Europeans for its bill and crest, and Native Americans began hunting the woodpecker much earlier. As a result, the ivory-bill was in danger of extinction by the early 20th Century.
Status The scant data we have on the ivory-bill suggests that it has never been very common. Historically, the ivory-bill has required extensive bottomland forests for survival. By the 1920s, much of the ivory-billed woodpecker’s habitat was gone, and most ornithologists considered the bird extinct.
In 1935, a group from Cornell university rediscovered the ivory-billed woodpecker in a hardwood forest in Tallulah, Louisiana. The last definite sighting, though, came a mere nine years later. In 1971, George Lowry, Jr., a respected ornithologist, came forward with what he believed to be two genuine photos of the ivory-bill; to his surprise, he was greeted with scorn and skepticism.
In 2005, Cornell university claimed they had rediscovered the ivory-billed woodpecker for the second time. The university had a research group in Arkansas that documented seven reliable sightings, audio recordings, and an extremely blurry video of an “ivory-billed woodpecker.” Despite the evidence, skeptics continued to debate the issue.
Seeing Double One of the problems associated with determining the ivory-billed woodpecker’s status is its remarkable resemblance to its close relative, the pileated woodpecker. Image by Andrew Brownsword
Conclusion The fact that there is no definitive proof for the ivory- billed woodpecker’s survival is suspicious. Some evidence, however, like the short video taken by a member of Cornell’s research team in 2004, does seem rather suggestive. It is likely the ivory-bill still exists in very small numbers.