Friday, April 29


Ivory-billed woodpeckers, presumed extinct, rediscovered in Arkansas

Illinois birding blitz this weekend          Send a link to a friend

[APRIL 29, 2005]  SPRINGFIELD -- Biologists and nature enthusiasts were shocked and overjoyed when an article published in the journal Science on April 28 revealed that the ivory-billed woodpecker, long presumed extinct, persists in the "Big Woods" region of Arkansas. Before the recent sightings in the Cache and White River National Wildlife Refuge Complex between February 2004 and February 2005, the last documented ivory-billed woodpecker in continental North America was in Louisiana in 1944, some 61 years ago. [For a PDF version of the article, click here. To download Adobe Reader for the PDF file, click here.]

The Cache River in Arkansas, where the current sightings of an ivory-billed woodpecker are being reported, is not the same Cache River in southern Illinois. However, ivory-billed woodpeckers almost certainly were in the Illinois Cache River area more than a century ago. Ongoing restoration of swamps and floodplain forests in southern Illinois, combined with the recent sightings, gives a glimmer of hope ivory-billed woodpeckers may someday return to Illinois.

But, the chances remain long. Even 200 years ago, when ivory-billed woodpeckers were relatively widespread, the southern tip of Illinois was the extreme northern range of the species. Today, only a single male bird has been confirmed to exist in the United States. Though more birds are likely still alive, the population certainly is very, very small and at extreme risk of extinction.

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This weekend, "important bird areas" in the Illinois Cache River Basin are being celebrated in conjunction with the Birding Fest of Southernmost Illinois and a "birding blitz," where birders compete in teams to find the most species in 24 hours and raise money for habitat restoration. The Cache River Basin Important Bird Areas include the Little Black Slough Nature Preserve and the Grassy Slough Preserve at the Cache River State Natural Area, and the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

The dedication of the areas is this afternoon (Friday) at the Henry Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center, located just south of Whitehill on Illinois Route 37 in Johnson County. Birding Fest 2005, which runs through Sunday, includes birding programs, hikes, tours and the birding blitz competition.

For more information, contact Liz Jones at the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge at (618) 634-2231 or by e-mail at

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Ivory-billed woodpeckers are huge (larger than crows; similar in size to red-shouldered hawks, which are regularly found in floodplain forest) and notoriously shy and quiet. The Arkansas bird has apparently been seen only 15 times in more than 7,000 hours of searching by professional ornithologists. In Illinois, our largest woodpecker is the pileated woodpecker, relatively common in floodplain forest in southern Illinois, and resembles the ivory-billed woodpecker. Pileated woodpeckers are smaller, have a dark bill and black back, compared with the ivory-billed woodpecker's larger size, white bill and distinctive white wings that look like a white triangle on its back when folded.

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Reports of ivory-billed woodpeckers in Illinois
(From "Birds of Illinois," H.D. Bohlen, Indiana University Press, 1989)

Date of observation or publication, observer or reporter, location:

  • 1831, John James Audubon, Ohio River, near confluence with Mississippi River
  • 1889, Robert Ridgway, White County, 40 miles south of Mount Carmel
  • 1900, B.T. Gault, near Ullin, Pulaski County

Not in Illinois, but close:

  • 1886, P. Hahn, Forest Park, St. Louis, Mo. (female collected)

[to top of second column in this article]

Identifying pileated and ivory-billed woodpeckers


  • Pleated -- all of the eastern United States and much of southern Canada
  • Ivory-billed -- eastern Arkansas, with unconfirmed reports since 1970 in Louisiana and Texas. Historically, southeastern United States, west to eastern Texas and northward along the Mississippi River to extreme southern Illinois. A subspecies persisted in Cuba until at least 1986.


  • Pileated -- mature forest, most common in floodplain forest
  • Ivory-billed -- mature floodplain forest and swamps


  • Pileated -- widespread, abundance increasing by about 1.9 percent per year (North American Breeding Bird Survey)
  • Ivory-billed -- critically endangered, near extinction


  • Pileated -- 16.5 inches long, 10 ounces
  • Ivory-billed -- 20 inches long, 17 ounces


  • Pileated -- dark, black at tip, often gray at base
  • Ivory-billed -- white


  • Pileated -- black above, white beneath; back appears black when wings are folded
  • Ivory-billed -- inner wing white above and below, forming white triangle on back when folded


  • Pileated -- loud, resonant, repeating kuk kuk keekeekeekeekeekuk kuk
  • Ivory-billed -- nasal kent kent kent


  • Pileated -- slow, powerful, accelerating then trailing off, lasting up to three seconds
  • Ivory-billed -- rapid double-rap, with second described as an "echo" of the first


  • Pileated -- excavates rectangular holes in search of carpenter ants
  • Ivory-billed -- uses bill like a chisel to flake off bark in search of beetles

[Illinois Department of Natural Resources news release]

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