Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers

There used to be lots of ivory-billed woodpeckers living all over the southeast part of the United States.  You can see on the map where all they used to live.  But now they may be EXTINCT.  Except maybe they are not extinct.  Nobody knows absolutely for sure.  Everybody thought the ivory-billed woodpecker was extinct, but then a man was pretty sure he saw one in 2004 in Arkansas, so after that, a whole lot of scientists started looking for these birds.

The ivory-billed woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world.  It is 20 inches long and it has a wingspan of 30 inches.  It looks kind of like the pileated woodpecker, but it is bigger.  There also used to be a subspecies of the ivory-billed woodpecker that lived in Cuba, but nobody has seen that one since the 1940s, so it is probably really and truly extinct.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers like to live in hardwood swamps and pine forests.  And they like for there to be lots of dead trees around because they find their food by pecking on the trees to peel off the bark.  And what they mostly eat is the larvae of the beetles that make holes in the trees, but the ivory-billed woodpecker will also eat other insects, fruit, and seeds.

For just one pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers, it takes 10 square miles of forest to live in so that they can find enough yummy larvae for themselves and their babies.  But back in the days before the Civil War, there were lots of these woodpeckers because there was still a bunch of forest land that had never been cut.  But after the War, people started cutting the trees down to use the lumber, and there weren't many places left for the ivory-billed woodpecker to live.  Plus the pileated woodpecker might have been competing with the ivory-billed woodpecker for food.

Besides all the logging, there was also a problem for the woodpeckers because people were hunting them.  In 1920 the bird was already getting to be extinct, and then a pair was found in Florida.  But guess what -- this pair got shot so they could be put in a collection.

By the middle of the 1940s, people stopped seeing ivory-billed woodpeckers anywhere, and they thought the birds must be extinct.  But then in 2004, a man was kayaking in a wilderness part of Arkansas and he saw a really big woodpecker with a red crest.  So then a whole bunch of scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology went to Arkansas looking for ivory-billed woodpeckers.  And they had some sightings that they thought were of that bird, but they couldn't totally prove it because they couldn't find any feathers or bird poop or anything that they could get a DNA sample from.

Mostly they kept the search for the woodpecker a secret because they didn't want a whole flock of bird watchers going down there and scaring the birds away, on account of sometimes the adult birds abandon their nests if they are scared and upset.  Anyway, while scientists were out looking for ivory-billed woodpeckers, The Nature Conservancy and Cornell University bought up a bunch of habitat in Arkansas.  Now the researchers have put up some video cameras in the woods to film what is happening there.  That way the researchers can watch without scaring the birds.

There are also some people searching for ivory-billed woodpeckers in northwest Florida along the Choctawhatchee River.  These people, who are ornithologists from Auburn University and the University of Windsor, think they have seen the bird, and they have also found some evidence that makes them think the woodpeckers are still around, such as large nesting holes in trees.  But there is still no absolute proof that ivory-billed woodpeckers exist.

So like I said at the beginning, the ivory-billed woodpecker might be extinct, or it might not be extinct.  I think it would be really cool if it wasn't extinct, and the reason I think this is because it is a really pretty bird and mostly black-and-white, like me.  Plus it's probably also yummy to eat!


  1. Dear Piper-

    Thank you for posting on the Lord God Bird. (Did you know they were also called that?) I like to think that they are still out there. Somewhere. Them and the thylacines.

    And as far as the BCOA agility, I *told* you I had other things to do.

    Your friend,
    Zest, superstar in training

  2. Dear Zest,
    I did not know the ivory-billed woodpecker was called the Lord God Bird. You are just full of useful information! Anyway, I thought you would be happy if I wrote about them because I think you mentioned them to me before, so that is why I was inspired to find out more.
    Your friend, Piper

  3. wow! i thought it was dead