Ivory Billed Woodpecker

From Ohio History Central
The bills of these Birds are much valued by the Cannola Indians, who made Coronets of 'em for their Princes and great warriors, by fixing them round a Wreath, with their points outward. The Northern Indians having none of these birds in their cold country, purchase them of the Southern People at the price of two, and sometimes three, Buck-skins a Bill.

- Catesby, Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. 1731.

News Flash!

After 60 years of thinking the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was extinct, it was discovered in eastern Arkansas in February of 2004. See more details below.

Facts

Scientific Name: Campephilus principalis
Habitat: Large areas of virgin forest of oak, sweet gum, and hackberry with dying branches. Southern swamps. A pair of ivory-bills is estimated to require six square miles of uncut forest - roughly 36 times as much territory as pileated woodpeckers.
Adult Body Length: 20 inches
Nesting Period: March - May
Broods Per Year: 1
Clutch Size: 3 - 5
Life Expectancy: These large birds may live up to 30 years. They are believed to mate for life, and they share duties of incubating and raising the young.
Foods: Insects, worms and grubs found in trees. Small amounts of fruit such as wild grapes, persimmons and hackberries.

Notes

The ivory-billed woodpecker is larger than a crow with black and white body feathers. The male has a red crest while the females have a black crest. They look very much like the pileated woodpecker except that they are larger, have a white bill rather than a dark colored bill, and have large white patches on the rear of the wings, which are visible in flight and appear as a white, lower back when perched.

History

Pre-Settlement

Evidence from southern Ohio archaeological sites is all that remains of the ivory-billed woodpecker. Leg bones and a partial beak bone have been found at three sites in Ross, Scioto, and Muskingum counties. These remains suggest that the ivory-billed woodpecker lived in Ohio between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. There is some debate about whether the bones show a population living in Ohio, or merely trade of bird parts with Native Americans living further south. Most trade involved skins and skulls or beaks, so some scientists believe the leg bones found in refuse pits are strong evidence the birds actually lived in Ohio. The date of their disappearance from the state is unknown, however. There is no proof that they lived in Ohio during historic times.

19th Century

In areas other than Ohio, the ivory-billed woodpecker survived in the large, uncut bottomland or swamp forests of North and South America until the late 1800s. At this time, forests were cut for lumber and to remove rotting trees, which are prime homes for insects.

Arthur T. Wayne, in 1910, recorded having "encountered more than 200 of these rare birds [in Florida] during the years 1892, 1893, and 1894." By the late 1930s it was doubtful that a fourth of that number were alive anywhere in the bird's entire range.

20th Century

The extensive logging of virgin forests continued until the 1920s. A survey between 1937-39, found 24 ivory-billed woodpeckers in Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina.

Although considered extinct, there was a sighting of the subspecies, the Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker, in 1989, allowing for the possibility that a few may still exist.

The last sighting that involved two or more people took place in 1944. For sixty years there were numerous other reports, but single individuals made each of them and none could be confirmed or supported by other evidence. While hope existed, most scientists believed the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was extinct.

Although considered extinct, there was a sighting of the subspecies, the Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker, in 1989, allowing for the possibility that a few may still exist.

21st Century Discovery

On February 11, 2004, kayaker and naturalist Gene Sparling spotted an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in an area known as the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas. Very quickly afterwards, scientists from The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, The Nature Conservancy, and various state and federal agencies began an intensive search of the area. Between February 2004 and March of 2005 they made 15 sightings, seven of which were detailed enough to provide positive identification. Furthermore, video footage was shot, and identification confirmed from a frame-by-frame analysis. As of spring of 2005, efforts are underway to protect more of the bottomland forests in this area and to further study these rare birds.

See Also

References

  1. Peterjohn, John. The Birds of Ohio; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN; 1989.
  2. Bent, Arthur C. Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers. Smithsonian Institution, U.S. National Museum Bulletin 174. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939, pp. 1-12.
  3. Hoose, Phillip. The Race to Save the Lord God Bird. New York, NY: Farrar Straus & Girous/Kroupa, 2004.