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Species Guide

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Campephilus principalis

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, stands as one of the largest woodpeckers in the world, and the largest in the United States. It is a striking bird, with a total length of 48 to 53 cm (19 to 21 in) and a wingspan of 76 cm (30 in). The adult's bill is a distinctive ivory color, which gives the bird its common name, while juveniles sport a chalky white bill. The plumage is predominantly shiny black with white accents, and the male features a prominent crest with a black leading edge that transitions to red on the side and rear, whereas the female's crest is entirely black.

Identification Tips

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker can be identified by its large size, distinctive ivory-colored bill, and the black and white pattern on its wings. When perched, a large white patch is visible on the lower back. The male's red crest distinguishes it from the female's all-black crest. Its flight is strong and direct, similar to that of a duck.


This woodpecker favors dense swamplands, old-growth forests, and in Cuba, upland pine forests. It requires large territories with abundant dead trees to forage for its preferred food, beetle larvae.


Historically, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker ranged from eastern Texas to North Carolina, and from southern Illinois to Florida and Cuba. However, habitat destruction and hunting have drastically reduced its range.


The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is known for its powerful bill, which it uses to remove bark from dead trees to access beetle larvae. It is not territorial but may be considered nomadic, moving to areas with abundant food sources. The bird is diurnal, roosting individually at night and foraging during the day.

Song & Calls

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker's drum is a single or double rap. Its most common call is a "kent" or "hant," resembling a toy trumpet, which can become more frequent and higher-pitched when the bird is disturbed.


The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is thought to mate for life, with pairs breeding annually between January and May. Both parents excavate a tree cavity for nesting, typically 15–70 feet above ground. They lay up to three glossy white eggs, with the young fledging about 7 to 8 weeks after hatching.

Similar Species

The Pileated Woodpecker is often mistaken for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker but can be distinguished by its smaller size, darker bill, and different plumage patterns, including a lack of extensive white on the wings when perched.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists mainly of large beetle larvae, especially wood-boring Cerambycidae beetles, supplemented by various fruits and nuts. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is adept at peeling tightly bound bark to expose larvae tunnels, a skill unmatched by other species in its range.

Conservation status

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and "definitely or probably extinct" by the American Birding Association. The last universally accepted sightings were in Louisiana in 1944 and Cuba in 1987. Despite sporadic reports and evidence suggesting persistence, the species' status remains precarious, and it is under consideration to be declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Ivory-billed Woodpeckers on Birda

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Profile picture for Sarah Ketterer
Sarah Ketterer
30 Aug 2023 - 6:00pm
United States

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