Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Southeast Region
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Quick Facts:

Name: Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis)
Primary Classification: Piciformes (Woodpeckers)
Location: Southeastern United States and Cuba
Habitat: Mature old-growth forest, cypress swamps and mature pine forests.
Diet: Mostly wood-boring insects, such as beetle larvae. Also other insects, fruit, and seeds.
Size: Up to 20 inches in height and 20 ounces in weight.
Description: Mostly black plumage, almost a glossy blue-black, especially on wing-coverts; outer primaries and tail duller black. Males have red crest, white stripe on side of head extending from below eye down side of neck and onto side of back, broad white “shield” created by white of inner primaries and all secondaries when wings folded over back. Long, pointed, ivory-colored bill. Female similar to male but slightly smaller, crest entirely black and somewhat longer. Juveniles similar to adults of each sex but somewhat browner and with somewhat rounded tip to bill (especially from above) and shorter crest. They have a 30-inch wingspan and are the largest woodpeckers in the United States.


Description of Species and Habitat:

The Ivory-billed woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in the United States. This species ranged from east Texas to North Carolina, and from southern Illinois to Florida and Cuba. The species was always thought to be relatively rare, but it became more so during the late 19th century, when land clearing reduced most of the mature forests within its range. However, some forests remained in remote and largely inaccessible swampy bottomlands throughout the Southeast and it is in these habitats that this species made its last stand in the United States. In Cuba, most of the land clearing occurred in the lowlands taking away tropical hardwoods, with remaining forests used by this species composed primarily of pine in the remote and mostly inaccessible mountains. With modernization in both countries the last refuges of mature forest came under the saw and were largely cleared by the 1940's.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker historically preferred expansive patches of mature forestland, often with embedded patches of recently disturbed forest from hurricanes, tornadoes, fire, insect outbreaks, and to some degree logging as long as some damaged trees were left standing. Its’ diet is known to be largely dependent on wood boring beetle larvae found in recently dead and dying trees. The bird uses its enormous white bill to hammer, wedge, and peel the bark off recently dead and dying trees to find the insects. This species is unique among woodpeckers in being able to pull out the beetle larvae that are close to the interface between freshly dead sapwood and the tight bark (usually too tight for any other woodpeckers to pry loose). During some times of the year the species feeds on fruit and other vegetable matter.

Like all woodpeckers, the Ivory-bill is a cavity-nester. In the Mississippi Delta, it is known to nest in a variety of hardwood and cypress trees while in other areas throughout its’ historic range, including Cuba, it also nested in mature pines. The species has an extraordinarily large home-range, and it has been estimated that one pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers need 6 – 10 square miles or more of habitat. The larger the home range, the less quality habitat there may be to support a pair.

Pairs are thought to mate for life and are also known to travel together. These paired birds will mate every year between January and May. Before they have their young, they excavate a nest in a dead or partially dead tree about 8-15 meters up from the ground. Usually three eggs are laid and incubated for 3-5 weeks. Both parents sit on the eggs and are involved in taking care of the chicks, with the male taking sole responsibility at night. They feed the chicks for months. About five weeks after the young are born, they learn to fly. Even after the young are able to fly, the parents will continue feeding them for another two months. The whole family will eventually split up in late fall or early winter.

For more detailed information on the species, please see The Ivory-billed Woodpecker by James T. Tanner, 1942, National Audubon Society or visit http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory.


Last updated: March 10, 2010