The Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Image of Ivory-billed Woodpecker compared with the common Pileated Woodpecker on the left
Ghost of the swamp

This specimen of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) (here compared with the common Pileated Woodpecker on the left) is not from Illinois. The only Illinois records we have are observations from naturalists, mostly in the 1800s. John James Audubon, the famous bird artist, encountered calling Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the 1820s on both sides of the Ohio River where it meets the Mississippi River at Cairo. Southern Illinois was the far northern extent of the species at that time. There are also a few archaeological records of this bird in Illinois, including a foot bone found in a midden (refuse) deposit at Cahokia, dated AD 1000-1200.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker required large tracts of mature forest with recently dead or dying trees that harbored the large beetle larvae it preferred. The last confirmed population was documented on the “Singer Tract,” a large expanse of mature Louisiana forest that was owned by the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Despite the best efforts of conservationists, the forest was logged, and the last known bird (a female) was spotted in 1944. Biologists confirmed sightings in Cuba in the mid-1980s. Despite possible sightings in Arkansas in 2004, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is feared to be extinct.

The only sound recordings of the Ivory-bill’s “toy trumpet” call, drumming, and call notes can be found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Website.

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