WatchList Species Account for Ivory-billed Woodpecker
(Campephilus principalis)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Ivory-billed Woodpecker by George M. Sutton/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Photo: © George M. Sutton/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was once found in virgin bottomland forests throughout the southeastern U.S., reaching as far north as southern Illinois, along the Ohio River. A second population was found in mature upland pine forests in Cuba. The preferred food of the Ivory-billed was beetle larvae which it located by stripping the bark from recently dead trees. Human exploitation of the swamp forests of the South led gradually to increased fragmentation of the bird’s habitat and the ultimate decline of its populations. Its numbers were further decimated by hunters who shot the birds for scientific collections, even into the 20th Century.


By 1939, James Tanner, the leading researcher on the bird, estimated there might be 22-24 individuals remaining in the U.S. Through the years since Tanner photographed the bird on the Singer Tract in 1942, there have been scattered reports of the bird from Texas and Louisiana, often met with skepticism; in 1999 a reliable observer reported seeing two in the Pearl River Swamp of southeastern Louisiana, but a subsequent expedition by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in cooperation with Zeiss Optical Company, involving installing 12 acoustical recording units in good habitat in the area, failed to find evidence of the bird.


In Cuba a bird was glimpsed in 1991, but by 1995 a researcher who spent time in the area stated that the bird “was almost certainly extinct.” However in April 2005 the announcement of the rediscovery of the bird at the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas stunned conservationists and the general public alike. At present this single sighting has been reconfirmed or repeated.