Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, Campephilus principalis
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were once found in the southeastern United States and Cuba. Although there have been reported sightings in recent years, they remain unconfirmed, and the species is considered extinct. Nevertheless, searches, debate, and the popular woodpecker’s following lives on.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were among the largest woodpecker species, measuring around 20 inches long, with a wingspan of about 30 inches. They had black bodies, white wing patches, and ivory-colored bills. Males had red crests and females had black crests which raised and lower indicating their mood. Their faces displayed distinct black and white markings, and black mask-like patterns extending from the bill to the eyes.
The bill of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers was exceptionally sturdy and sharp, adapted for drilling and excavating tree cavities. Their bills were longer and broader than those of most other woodpecker species, allowing them to peck and chisel through thick bark and hardwood.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were solitary, elusive, and sparsely distributed in dense forest habitats, making them difficult to locate and study. Information is based on historical records and limited observations.
These large woodpeckers ranged across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. They also inhabited dense forests in Cuba. They generally resided in their habitat year-round, moving within their range in response to seasonal changes in food availability.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers inhabited old-growth hardwood forests of tall, mature trees and an abundance of dead and decaying wood in low-lying, bottomland areas with swampy or riverine terrain, often adjacent to water bodies such as rivers, creeks, and floodplains.
These forests typically consisted of species such as oak, cypress, tupelo, and sweet gum – tree species that were susceptible to infestations by wood-boring beetles. This woodpecker species required large tracts of standing dead trees that provided the necessary food resources, ideal foraging, and suitable cavity nesting sites.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were known for their characteristic drumming and pecking on trees, using their strong bills to hammer, wedge, and peel the bark off dead trees in search of food. They stripped away the outer layers of bark to expose insect larvae and other invertebrates hiding underneath. Historical accounts and studies suggest that ivory-billed woodpeckers created rectangular holes in trees similar to those which pileated woodpeckers are observed to excavate.
Their primary diet consisted of various insects and insect larvae found within the trees. They were particularly skilled at detecting and extracting wood-boring beetles and their larvae, a significant portion of their diet. Other food sources would have included ants, termites, caterpillars, and other arthropods.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers also consumed small reptiles, amphibians, and occasionally small birds and their eggs. They were also known to feed on fruits such as wild grapes, persimmons, and hackberries, and nuts, such as acorns, pecans, hickory nuts, and poison ivy seeds.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers used their powerful bills to excavated cavities in dead or partially dead trees, particularly those with softer decaying wood, which was easier to excavate. The cavities were generally deep and spacious to accommodate relatively large adults and their young. Cavities were located at varying heights between 15 and 70 feet from the ground in the main trunk or large branches. These tree cavities were later reused by a variety of other cavity-nesting birds and animals.
Breeding behaviors of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers such as the specific number of eggs laid by Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are not well-documented. Adults were observed exchanging places in tree cavities and both the male and female likely took turns incubating and foraging. The incubation period for woodpeckers is generally around two weeks.
After hatching, woodpecker parents generally take turns feeding and caring for the nestlings. They regurgitate food to feed their young, which primarily consists of insects and other invertebrates.
Both Ivory-billed Woodpecker parents would have provided for and guided the offspring until they fledged and became independent. Young adult Ivory-billed Woodpeckers would have eventually sought their own exclusive, forest areas in which to forage, mate and nest.