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The Ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, is a member of the woodpecker family Piciformes. It is officially listed as an endangered species, although the last positive sighting was in Cuba in 1987. It is very possibly extinct. The reason for its decline is almost certainly loss of habitat.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is one of the biggest woodpeckers in the world. It is about the size of a crow, measuring from 18 to 20 in. (46–51 cm) in length, with short legs and feet ending in large, curved claws.
These birds are shiny, blue-black in color with extensive white markings on its wings and neck. It can be identified by its pure white bill, which distinguishes it from the darker-billed Pileated woodpecker, as well as by a prominent top crest, red in the male and black in the female. A true woodpecker, it has a strong and straight chisel-like bill and a long, mobile, hard-tipped, sticky tongue. Its drum was a single or double rap, and its alarm call, a kent or hant, sounding like a toy trumpet repeated in a series or as a double note.
Habitat and diet
Ivory-bills are known to prefer old forests of pine and bald cypress, with large amounts of dead trees and decaying wood, often in swampy ground. It fed mainly on the larvae of wood-boring beetles, but also ate seeds, fruit and other insects. It uses its bill to chop, wedge, and peel the bark off trees to find the insects. Surprisingly, these birds need about ten square miles per pair so they can find enough food to feed their young and themselves. Hence, they occur at low-densities even in healthy populations.
The Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are thought to take mates for life. They are also known to travel together. These paired birds will mate every year between January and May. Before they have their young, they excavate a nest in a dead or partially-dead tree about 25 feet up from the ground. Usually three eggs are laid, incubating for approximately 3-5 weeks. Both parents sit on the eggs and are involved in taking care of the chicks, with the male taking sole responsibility at night. They feed the chicks for months. About five weeks after the young are born, they learn to fly. Even after the young are able to fly, the parents will continue feeding them for another two months. The whole family will eventually split up in late fall or early winter.
Heavy logging activity and hunting by collectors decimated the population of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the late 1800s. By 1938, only 20 or so individuals remained in the wild. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was listed as an endangered species on March 11, 1967. In the U.S., the last confirmed sighting of the species was during the 1940s. In 1999, there was an unconfirmed sighting in the Pearl River region of Louisiana. The last reported sighting of the Cuban subspecies (C. p. bairdii) was in 1987. Although many ornithologists believe the species has been wiped out completely, it has not been officially declared extinct. An expedition to search for signs of surviving Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in 2002 was inconclusive.
- Hoose, Phillip M.; The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, New York: Farar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004. ISBN 0374361738
-  - the Audubon watchlist entry for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
- Winkler, H., D. A. Christie, and D. Nurney. Woodpeckers: A Guide to the Woodpeckers of the World. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1995.
- The Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
- Louisiana State University page on The Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
- FAQ with video and sound files.
- National Public radio reports (page has streaming Real Audio files).
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