<p>Image: Ivory-billed woodpeckers</p>

Thought to be extinct since the mid-20th century, a live ivory-billed woodpecker was seen in video footage captured in an Arkansas swamp forest in 2005.

Image by Corbis


Map: Ivory-billed woodpecker range

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Range

Fast Facts

Average life span in the wild:
20 to 30 years
18 to 20 in (46 to 51 cm); Wingspan, 30 to 31 in (76 to 79 cm)
16 to 20 oz (450 to 570 g)
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man

Please add a "relative" entry to your dictionary.

The ivory-billed woodpecker recently went from near total obscurity to superstardom when birders reported a sighting of the believed-to-be-extinct species. The world's third largest woodpecker was condemned to oblivion some 50 years ago, but in April 2005, a stunning video emerged from a vast Arkansas swamp forest. The tape confirmed the sighting of a live ivory-billed woodpecker—and captured the attention of the world. It was hailed as the birding equivalent of finding Elvis alive.

In the wake of the discovery, some experts supported the evidence while others suggested that the tape showed a similar, smaller woodpecker—the pileated—which remains common in much of North America.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers make a unique double-knock noise when pecking at trees, and this sound may be a crucial aid to identifying any surviving birds. A recent recording may have captured this distinctive sound, but it may also reflect noises of nonavian origin.

Until more hard evidence emerges from the Mississippi Delta's inaccessible, 860-square-mile (2,226-square-kilometer) Big Woods region, the ivory-bill's status must remain uncertain. But it is beyond doubt that the bird captured the attention of America and became a tragic symbol of the vanished old-growth delta forests it once frequented. These woodlands survive today mostly in isolated patches.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers use their enormous white bill (not really made of ivory, but bone) to strip bark from dead but standing trees, and to access the beetle larvae that make up their primary food. These bills were once decorative objects prized by some Native Americans. They have been found in archaeological digs far from the bird's ancient range—which suggests that they had value as trade items.

Bird Features

  • Picture of a whooping crane in New Orleans, Louisiana

    A Flight of Birds

    See a whooping crane, a Javan rhinoceros hornbill, and more stunning birds photographed by Joel Sartore.

  • Illustration of great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

  • Picture of a brown pelican


    Explore the pelican’s prodigious pouch. Find out how these famous fishers bring home the catch of the day.

  • Photo: Close-up of a duck

    Bird Pictures

    Get right up close to 12 colorful new bird galleries, featuring photos from My Shot members and classic art from the NG archives.

Animals A-Z