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Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

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by James T. Tanner

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Long thought extinct, the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker may yet live: in 1999, the birding community was galvanized at the news of a sighting by a hunter in a Louisiana forest. A series of expeditions continue to search for the rare bird, and all seekers rely on this elegant treatise. Written by James Tanner as his doctoral thesis, it was published by the


Long thought extinct, the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker may yet live: in 1999, the birding community was galvanized at the news of a sighting by a hunter in a Louisiana forest. A series of expeditions continue to search for the rare bird, and all seekers rely on this elegant treatise. Written by James Tanner as his doctoral thesis, it was published by the National Audubon Society in 1942, when a few of the species could still be found in the cypress and bottomland forests of the southern United States.
The book opens with a general description of the Ivory-bill, explaining how to distinguish it from its more commonly encountered cousin, the Pileated Woodpecker. It then plots the species’ original distribution pattern; tells the history of its disappearance and the story of its distribution as of 1940; discusses the population density and range of individual birds; food and feeding habits; daily routine in the non-nesting season; voice; reactions to human presence; roosting; reproductive and nesting habits; care of the young; and causes of nesting failure. In conclusion, the author outlines both a general and a specific program for conserving the species. An appendix covers nomenclature, related species, plumages, anatomy, and measurements, and lists the scientific names of birds, mammals, and reptiles mentioned in the text. A model of patient, exacting field research, this book offers fact-filled and engrossing reading for birders and other nature lovers.

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Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Birds Series
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6.46(w) x 9.28(h) x 0.38(d)

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The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

By James T. Tanner

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1942 National Audubon Society
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14875-5


General Description

THE Ivory-bill (Plate 1) is the largest North American woodpecker, averaging about twenty inches in length. The Southern Pileated is about seventeen inches long, but it is a stockier bird and the difference in length is not a reliable character unless the two species are seen together.

The plumage of the Ivory-bill is mainly a glossy black with purplish reflections. A white stripe starting on each cheek continues down each side of the neck to the back, where the two stripes curve together to meet in the middle of the back. The outer half of all the secondaries is white, as are the ends of the inner primaries; this makes a large white patch on the rear half of the wing, narrowing toward the tip. This white is conspicuous even when the bird folds its wings, appearing then as a large triangular patch on the lower back, like a white saddle.

The male has a prominent scarlet crest, while the crest of the female is entirely black.

The bill of the Ivory-bill is large and ivory-white. The general shape of the bird is long and slender, accentuated by the long and tapering tail.

The best field character for identifying the Ivory-bill is the large white patch on the wing that is visible on the back when the bird is perched. This patch can be seen for a long ways and looks the same in all lights; the only other bird with a similar marking is the much smaller and different Red-headed Woodpecker. The back of a Pileated Woodpecker at rest is a uniform slaty black, without white (see Fig. 1).

Many times Pileated Woodpeckers have been mistaken for Ivory-bills because of their light-colored bills, which vary from black to a light horn color. Also, the white cheek of a Pileated might be mistaken for white on the bill. The bill of a bird, even a large one, is hard to see at the top of a tree. The bill is thus not a good character for differentiating the two species in the field.

The manner of flight of the bird cannot be used as a reliable field character. Much has been written and said on how the Ivory-bill flies directly and straight while the Pileated's flight undulates, but I have frequently seen Pileateds fly directly, in no way different from the flight of the larger bird. In fact, both birds vary considerably in their manner of flight. Nor can the amount of white visible on the wing of a flying bird be used as a character, as the open wing of a Pileated shows as much white from beneath as does the wing of an Ivory-bill.

In flight the Ivory-bill looks surprisingly like a Pintail; its neck is long and slender, its tail long and tapering, and the wings rather narrow. The important field character is that the white on the wing is on the rear half. By comparison a Pileated is stocky with shorter wings, the tail is slightly forked, and the white is on the front half of the wing (see Fig. 2).

To summarize, the position of the white on the wing is by far the most reliable field character at all times. In the Ivory-bill the white is on the rear half of the wing and is visible on the back when the bird is perched and its wings folded. In the Pileated the white is on the front half of the wing and is hidden when its wings are folded.

The call of the Ivory-bill has been described by Audubon (1831) as a repeated pait resembling the high false note of a clarinet, and by Chapman (1932) as a repeated and nasal yap sounding like a tin trumpet. Both descriptions fit the call of an Ivory-bill. The call can be imitated fairly well by tooting on the mouthpiece of a clarinet or saxophone, although the resulting note lacks the slightly trumpet-like tone of the Ivory-bill. To my ear, the best spelling of the call is that used by Allen and Kellogg—a nasal kent, kent.

The Ivory-bill's call resembles very much the call of the Red-breasted Nuthatch, only of course much louder. The bird usually calls repeated single or double yaps—kent, kent-kent, kent. Another common call is a more prolonged, upward-slurring kient—kient—kient. More detailed descriptions of the bird's notes and calls are given in a following section on general behavior.

There is little possibility of confusing the calls of the Ivory-bill and the Pileated; both the tone and the form of the two calls are different. The mating call of the Pileated has some resemblance to that of the Ivory-bill, but that is all. Once heard and recognized, the Ivory-bill's call is not easily confused with any other sound to be heard in the woods; it is a fine aid in identification.


Original Distribution

THE maps, Figs. 3–11, showing the distribution of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, indicate that the bird was originally confined, except for a few records, to the southeastern and lower Mississippi valley states. Within these regions it lived in swampy forests, especially the large bottomland river swamps of the coastal plain and Mississippi Delta, and the cypress swamps of Florida. It was most abundant in the lower bottoms of the Mississippi River and of the rivers in South Carolina and Georgia, and in Florida swamps. More Ivory-bill records and specimens have come from the state of Florida than from all the other states put together; this is partly due to the large number of collectors and observers that have worked in Florida, but it indicates that the Ivory-bill was probably more abundant and widespread in that region than elsewhere.

Many Ivory-bill reports have been based upon mistaken identifications of Pileated Woodpeckers. This has been more true at the edges of the Ivory-bill range than it has in the center, as observers in the former localities have had little or no chance to become familiar with the real Ivory-bill. Consequently it has been difficult and always uncertain to say what the limits of its range were, but the following statement of the original range of the Ivory-bill is what I believe most probably true after examining all available records.

Range of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker: southeastern, Gulf, and Mississippi valley states of the United States; north in the coastal plain to southeastern North Carolina; south in Florida to southern Florida; west through the Gulf states to the Brazos River in Texas; north along the larger rivers to west-central Alabama, southern Illinois, and southeastern Missouri; and west along the larger rivers to southeastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas.

The following records can be considered as accidental or as mistaken and unproven identifications: Fort Macon, N.C. (Coues and Yarrow); Franklin County in southeastern Indiana (Haymond); Fayette and Kansas City, Mo. (Cooke, 1888); Franklin County, Tenn. (Bendire); San Marco and Guadalupe Rivers, Tex. (J. M. H.); and New Braunfels, Tex. (Roemer).

The following series of maps plots more accurately the past distribution of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and also shows the distribution of the swamp areas within the range of the bird. The range of the Ivory-bill has been divided for mapping into eight regions—Carolina region, Georgia-northern Florida region, southern Florida region, Alabama region, lower Mississippi Delta, upper Mississippi Delta, Arkansas-Oklahoma region, and east Texas region. On the map of every region each Ivory-bill locality is spotted and numbered, and the correspondingly numbered key or legend accompanying each map gives the pertinent data for each location. Locations were plotted as accurately as possible using the data available.

Distribution of the swamp areas, shown outlined by dashed lines, has been plotted from forest type maps, vegetation maps, and soil maps as indicated in the legend accompanying each regional map. The numbered key to the locations gives the information in this order: location, date of record, observer or collector and, in parenthesis, the authority or source for the record. Names and dates in the parenthesis refer to the bibliography.


(Fig. 3)

1. 12 mi. north of Wilmington, N.C.; about 1800; Alexander Wilson (1811).

2. Cheraw, S.C.; Apr. 1876 (R. C. Murphy). Pee Dee River, near Cheraw; Apr. 1889; Dr. C. Kollock (A. T. Wayne, 1910).

3. Pine barrens of S.C.; about 1850; Burnett (1854).

4. Black Oak Id., Clarendon Co., S.C.; about 1930; W. M. Ridgill (verbal).

5. Santee swamp, near St. Stephens, S.C.; about 1925; Sam Platt (verbal).

6. Santee swamp, Georgetown Co., S.C.; 1935; Alexander Sprunt (epist.).

7. Santee swamp, Georgetown Co., S.C.; 1935–37; H. Shokes (verbal).

8. Santee swamp, lower Berkeley Co.; about 1930; Melamphy (records Nat. Audubon Soc.).

9. Cypress swamp north of Charleston, S.C.; no date (spec. A.M.N.H.).

10. Savannah River, Barnwell Co., S.C.; 1898; T. M. Ashe (A. T. Wayne, 1910). Savannah River, Allendale Co., S.C.; Sept. 1907; G. N. Bailie (E. E. Murphey).

11. Frequently between Augusta and Savannah along the Savannah River; about 1800; Alexander Wilson (1811).

12. Hunting Id., Beaufort Co., S.C.; before 1870; W. Hoxie (Hasbrouck).

13. Johnson's, Pritchard's, and Edding Islands, S.C.; 1880 and before; W. Hoxie (1885, and Hasbrouck).

(Habitat outlines drawn from Marbut's 'Soils of the United States.')


(Fig. 4)

1. Altamaha River, Tattnall Co., Ga.; around 1925; Vester Brown (verbal).

2. Altamaha Swamp, Ga.; between 1853 and 1865; Dr. S. W. Wilson (H. B. Bailey 1883).

3. Small tributary of the Satilla River, 20 mi. se. Blackshear, Ga.; about 1895; Maurice Thompson (1896).

4. Okefenokee, Ga.; 1860; S. C. Dinwiddie (spec. U.S. Nat. Mus.) Craven Hammock, Okefenokee Swamp, Ga.; 1910–15; Sam Mizell (verbal).

5. Minnie Lake Island, Okefenokee Swamp, Ga.; 1910–15; Sam Mizell (verbal).

6. Okefenokee Region, Ga.; about 1888; Maurice Thompson (1889).

7. East side of the Suwannee Canal, Okefenokee Swamp, Ga.; 1910–15; Sam Mizell (verbal).

8. About a day's journey down the river from Columbus, Ga.; 1887; August Koch (1888).

9. Bristol, Fla.; Dec. 1889 (Hasbrouck).

10. Apalachicola River swamp, Fla.; March 1887; August Koch (1888).

11. Apalachicola River swamp; 1920; resident's report (A. H. Howell, 1932).

Apalachicola River swamp; about 1935; Mr. Stensal and others (verbal).

12. Wakulla Co., Fla.; June 1936 and Jan. 1937; George Van Hyning (verbal).

13. Leon Co., Fla.; about 1900; R. W. Williams (1904).

14. "Several miles upstream," St. Marks River, Fla.; Apr. 1886; H. A. Kline (1887).

15. St. Marks, Fla.; March 1885; H. A. Kline (1886). St. Marks, Fla.; Jan. 1900; C. J. Pennock (1901).

16. Waukeenah River, Jefferson Co., Fla.; Apr. 1894 (A. T. Wayne's field catalogue, No. 3035).

17. Wacissa River region, Jefferson Co., Fla.; Feb. to June 1894; A. T. Wayne (1895) (spec. M.C.Z.).

Wacissa River; Dec. 15, 1932; C. R. Aschmeier (A. H. Howell, epist.).

18. Wacissa River swamp, Fla.; 1923; resident's report (A. H. Howell, 1932).

Wacissa River swamp; up to 1937; J. B. Royalls (verbal).

19. Aucilla River, Fla.; 1894; A. T. Wayne (field catalogue).

Aucilla River, Fla.; May 1917; C. J. Pennock (spec. Acad. Nat. Sci.).

20. Taylor Co., Fla., Big Muddy swamp; Feb. 1894; A. T. Wayne (field catalogue).

21. Taylor Co., Fla.; Jan. 1900; C. J. Pennock (1901).

22. Taylor Co., Fla.; March 1904; R. D. Hoyt (1905).

23. Stephensville, Taylor Co., Fla.; Jan. 1901; C. J. Pennock (spec. Acad. Nat. Sci.).

24. Lafayette or Dixie Co., Fla.; 1905 (spec. M.C.Z.).

25. Pumpkin swamp, Dixie Co., Fla.; Apr. 1893; A. T. Wayne (field catalogue).

26. California swamp, Dixie Co., Fla.; Feb. 1893; A. T. Wayne (field catalogue).

27. California swamp; 1893 (spec. M.C.Z.).

28. Branford, Fla.; Apr. 1892; A. T. Wayne (field catalogue).

29. Suwannee River, near Old Town, Fla.; 1890 (spec. A.M.N.H.), and 1893 (spec. M.C.Z.).

30. Old Town, Fla.; Apr. 1892; A. T. Wayne (spec. M.C.Z.).

31. Suwannee Hammock, Levy Co., Fla.; 1893; A. T. Wayne (field catalogue).

Suwannee Hammock; 1917; C. J. Pennock (epist.).

Suwannee Hammock; about 1925; Dr. Turner (verbal).

32. Rosewood, Fla.; 1881–83; C. J. Maynard (spec. M.C.Z.).

33. Cedar Keys, Fla.; Jan. 1859; G. Wurdeman (spec. U.S. Nat. Mus.).

34. Otter Creek, Gulf Hammock, Levy Co., Fla.; about 1905; Theodore Gordon (1909).

35. Gulf Hammock, Levy Co., Fla.; Aug. 1883 (spec. M.C.Z.).

Gulf Hammock, Levy Co.; March 1887; Phillip Laurent (1887).

36. Sim's Ridge, Gulf Hammock, Levy Co., Fla.; 1932–34; T. Roy Young (epist.).

37. Baker Co., Fla.; no date (spec. col. Charles Doe).

38. St. John's River, north of Green Cove Springs, Fla.; 1887; C. T. Adams (spec. A.M.N.H.).

39. Alachua Co., Fla.; about 1910; O. E. Baynard (1913).

40. Micanopy, Fla.; 1909; O. E. Baynard (Biol. Surv. Notes).

41. St. John's and Ocklawaha Rivers, Fla.; 1873; C. H. Merriam (1874).

Between Welaka and Rodman, Fla.; 1916; O. E. Baynard (Biol. Surv. Notes).

42. Oklawaha River swamp, Fla.; 1879 (spec. F.M.); and 1923; B. M. Kinser (A. H. Howell, 1932).

43. Juniper Creek, Marion Co., Fla.; March 1886; E. M. Hasbrouck (1891).

44. Lake George, Fla.; July 1877; T. W. Wilson (spec. U.S. Nat. Mus.).

45. Volusia, Fla.; Feb. 1869; J. A. Allen (spec. M.C.Z.).

(Habitat outlines drawn from Marbut's 'Soils of the United Sates,' for Georgia, and from Florida Agricultural Experiment Station's vegetation map of Florida.)


(Fig. 5)

1. Mouth Withlacoochee River; 1879–80; W. E. D. Scott (1881).

2. Crystal River, Citrus Co.; July 1, 1889 (spec. M.C. Z.).

3. Panasofkee Lake, Sumter Co.; spring 1876; W. E. D. Scott (1881).

4. Wekiva River; June 7, 1878 (spec. M.C.Z.). Wekiva River; about 1885; G. A. Boardman (1885).

5. Enterprise (now Benson Springs), Volusia Co.; about 1859; H. Bryant (1859).

Enterprise; Mar. 5, 1869; J. A. Allen (1871).

6. Hawkinsville; Mar. 15, 1869; J. A. Allen (1871) (spec. M.C.Z.).

Lake Jessup; winter 1869 (spec. M.C.Z.).

Sanford; around 1885; C. D. Barrett (anon., 1885).

7. Lake Harney; no date but old (egg col. Univ. Fla. Mus.).

8. Turnbull Swamp or Hammock, Volusia Co.; 1872; (S. C. Clarke).

Turnbull Swamp or Hammock; 1907 and 1911; Mrs. Sams (A. W. Butler, 1931).

9. Indian River; Feb. 3, 1885 (spec. A.M.N.H.).

10. Hernando Co.; Mar. 18, 1876 and Jan. 17, 1877 (spec. M.C.Z.).

11. Linden; Mar. 30, 1886 (spec. M.C.Z.).

12. Lake Co., 15 mi. s. Clermont; Mar. 4, 1904; R. D. Hoyt (1905).

Lake Co.; Mar. 10, 1905; R. D. Hoyt (egg col. M.C.Z.).

13. Polk Co.; 1889 (spec. M.C.Z.).

Northwest of Polk City, Polk Co.; about 1930; O. E. Baynard (verbal).

14. Davenport; June 10, 1889 (spec. M.C.Z.).

15. Gotha, Orange Co.; 1906; J. T. Mason (spec. Colo. Mus. N.H.).

Bear Bay, west Orange Co.; Oct. 1913 (Biol. Surv. Notes).

16. Reedy Creek, Polk Co.; about 1930; John Goodman (verbal).

Reedy Creek; Oct. 1892; Smith (A. T. Wayne's field catalogue).

17. Kissimmee; 1887 (spec. F.M.); and about 1900; W. B. Hinton (Howe and King, 1902).

18. Jim Creek, Orange Co.; Dec. 1936; G. E. McCulloch (verbal).

19. Taylor Creek, Osceola Co.; about 1916; Nicholson and James Black (verbal).

20. Taylor Creek; 1907 (spec. F.M.); and Apr. 1924; A. A. Allen (Allen and Kellogg, 1937) (spec. Univ. Fla. Mus.).

21. Wolf Creek, Osceola Co.; D. J. Nicholson (1926).

22. Merritt's Island; 1870; S. C. Clarke (1885).

23. North Lake Washington; Dec. 1902 (spec. M.C.Z.). Brevard Co.; winter 1901 (spec. M.C.Z.).

24. Cypress swamp near Tarpon Springs; Mar. 1887; W. E. D. Scott (1888) (spec. M.C.Z.).

26. Clearwater; 1880; W. E. D. Scott (1881).

27. Tampa; Sept. 1883 (spec. M.C.Z.).

28. Tampa; 1883–89 (spec. M.C.Z. and A.M.N.H.).

29. Hillsborough Co.; no date; Scott (spec. A.M.N.H.).

30. Manatee Co.; March 17, 1889 (spec. M.C.Z.).

31. Manatee Creek, Manatee Co. (T33S, R22E, S34); no date (nest spec. Univ. Fla. Mus.).

32. Highlands Hammock, Highlands Co.; 1937; O. E. Baynard (1937).

33. Kissimmee River, 50 mi. below Kissimmee; Nov. 1908; Tom Murray (Butler, 1931).

34. Fort Drum; May 1899; Hoxie (Biol. Surv. Notes).


Excerpted from The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker by James T. Tanner. Copyright © 1942 National Audubon Society. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Ivory-Billed Woodpecker 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A dark brown tom stepped carefully from boulder to boulder, bright amber eyes shining as he finally reached the sandy hollow. He cleared his throat and began, "Welcome to Birdclan, now that you are here you have decided to join our clan or at least are considering it." He paused, sweeping his tail to curl around his paws."Now, I want to say this clan is apart of an elite group of clans. So far with Horseclan, Sandclan, Ashclan, and Fireclan. Fireclan is soon to be changed, but the name is undecided. We participate in a system where only these clans can start wars with each other, and only have their ancestors join in a single Starclan and Dark Forest. More information can be found here: Discover Cats, all results. Now that I have gotten that out you are probably getty antsy, well I wouldn't be surprised. You may join if you are approved by our deputy, but for now sit tight and wait to be accepted! If you are looking to roleplay a newborn kit, you must be approved by that kit's queen. In the following results we will be having a few rules, short descriptions of the members of Birdclan, and also a map!" He purred, then ended with a chuckle. "But! I until then I want to say may Starclan light your path." He meowed, the dipped his head, turning and disappearing into Birdclan Territory. •>Welcoming Oakstar, leader of Birdclan