Sunday, 6 December 2009

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker – Rediscovered?


I may well discuss the Slender-Billed Curlew next depending upon what people think of this post and if you my readers enjoy it. So enjoy!

For a long time I have been interested in birds outside of Durham and outside of the UK. As a lover of rare birds, for reasons I cannot explain I have developed an interest in the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. It was thought to be extinct for about 50 years but a few sightings and actual footage seemed to indicate that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was still alive and was not an extinct bird. However, there are people on both sides of this story. Those who believe that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was indeed captured on film and the descriptions are accurate. There are also people who think that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was not caught on film for just that brief few seconds. So in today’s post I am going to give my opinions on this fascinating story.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is the third largest Woodpecker in the world and I can assure you it’s a bonny bird (if you don’t know what one looks like see the bottom of the post). Sadly the image I have posted doesn’t do it justice so I may have some hyperlinks to images elsewhere on the web. Back to the story now: So on the 11th of February 2004 a man by the name of Gene Sparling was kayaking in the big woods of Arkansas through the cache river. Gene said he saw a huge Woodpecker fly towards him and then it landed on a nearby tree. He noted that it had a bright red crest and that when it was on the tree it had a “herky-jerky” almost cartoon line movement to it. Please see for full sighting details.

Soon after Gene was then interviewed by a few people from the Cornell Lab or Ornithology on his sighting. It sounded to good not to be true to me, obviously them as well Tim Gallagher and Bobby Harrison went to go and have a look. These two men always obviously wanted to see an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Tim was writing a book about Ivory-Billed Woodpecker sightings. So Tim and Bobby set out to the location to search for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Please see for full sighting details.

The first say yielded nothing then on the 27th of February at about 1:15 in the afternoon they stopped to have some lunch. A large black and white Woodpecker flew right in front of them and was about to land on a nearby tree before both the men pointed at it and yelled “Ivory-bill!”. Clearly spooked the bird took flight. It stopped a few times on the trees but sadly no video was ever taken of it. After about 15 minutes after the incident they individually sat down and drew what they saw as field notes. After this sighting it was seen it was reported again by people on three dates in April and once in June of 2004. Then in February 2005 it was spotted once.  Please see for full sighting details.

However possibly the most important evidence was captured on a video camera by David Luneau on the 25th of April 2005. On this day David was going along the river with his video camera running, this makes it easy to therefore grab the camera to record something if it is seen. The camera was filming and it was placed looking out of the left hand side of the boat. They where going along the river and then suddenly a large Woodpecker burst from a tree and flew away into the distance away from the camera. Although it was far away from the camera David and the person with him saw the bird and David commented straight away on the size of the bird! Fortunately the camera was recording and had caught the bird bursting off the tree and flying away. This was closely analysed and many believed it to be an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Looking at the evidence I concur.

The whole scene does last very long at all and can be viewed here:
^ Give it time to load, I would advice you to watch it though a few times instead of just once. If you look above the oar you should see it burst from the tree and then fly off.

So what’s all the controversy? Why do some people doubt. Well there is another Woodpecker out there in the big woods called a Pileated Woodpecker which is quite similar but abundant and quite common in the big woods. Some people think that the video was of a Pileated Woodpecker all of this is dismissed in this 1 hour 50 minutes evaluation of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker sighting. This video includes some conservation efforts to help the bird as well as rare footage from the 1930’s. It’s fantastic and if you get the time to watch it please do:

I think that the evidence in the video above shows conclusively that it was an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker and that they are still alive and that there may be hope yet. To view the evidence it was an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker instead of a Pileated Woodpecker see here:

So what do you think? I would love to hear from you. Why not comment below?

(Ivory-billed Woodpecker - Male on the bottom left and Female bottom right.)

Really good website on Ivory-billed Woodpecker:

Actually footage of the bird in 2005:

Video Evidence it was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker:

Evaluation of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker 1hour 50minutes long:

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker videos:


  1. Good stuff Andrew. I'm gonna need time to study this.;-) Like most people I have not seen the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, but I have seen the Pileated Woodpecker in woods in British Columbia, and even that was not easy to find! I'm never quite sure how Pileated is pronounced although I tend to say it as Pill ee ated whilst I think others say Pile ated. I wonder if anyone can put me right? Cheers Brian.

  2. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for taking the time to read it. I hope you enjyed reading this as much as I did writing it. You can say it either as "Pile ated" or "Pill ee ated." I say the later and would love to see both woodpeckers.