Study May Give Hope That Ivory-Billed
Woodpeckers Still Around
The Race to Save the Lord God Bird
Phil M. Hoose
ISBN-13: 978-0374361730
Ash tree with ivory-billed woodpecker
roosting holes, June 1937
How Mike Solved the Puzzle
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Quiz #298 Results
Quiz #298
March 27, 2011
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1.  What is unusual about this bird?
2.  Who took the picture?
3. What was the occasion?
Click here for hint.


1.  It is a very rare ivory billed woodpecker.
2. James Tanner.
3.  It was the only set of pictures taken of a juvenile ivory billed woodpecker.
It was also Tanner's 24th birthday.
The Ivory Billed Woodpecker
Congratulations to Our Winners

Mary Fraser                Nicole Blank
Odile Loreille                Joyce Veness
Daniel Jolley                Jim Kiser
Donna Jolley                Stephen Jolley
Susan E. Skidmore                Maureen O'Connor
Jim Baker                Debbie Sterbinsky
Deborah Campisano                Gary Sterne
Bill Utterback                John Chulick
Richard Wakeham                Gina Hudson
Carole Cropley                Arthur Hartwell
Milene Rawlinson                       Herschel Browne
Collier Smith                Carol Farrant
Margaret Paxton                Pamela Fitzpatrick
Barbara Marcovecchio                Sharon Taber
Dennis Brann                Cynthia Costigan
Janice Sellers                Mike Dalton
Diane Burkett        Stan Read
Robert W. Steinmann Jr.                Venita Wilson
Marilyn Hamill                Simona MacManus
Comments from Our Readers
didn't need the hint - I got lucky because my husband loves both birds and trees and
identified the bird as a young woodpecker so it didn't take long to ID the bird on a bird
site with its white bill.  Google search of "ivory-billed woodpecker pictures" led me to
html.                                                                                                 Nicole Blank

Even though there are now claims that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is not extinct, there
is no direct evidence to confirm it.  It would be nice to think that there are still some
Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers flying around in the forests of Louisiana and elsewhere.
Dan Jolley
As an occassional "birder"; I have been following this bird's story, so I had a head start
on the quiz!                                                                             
Maureen O'Connor

While I knew about the Ivorybill and the recent reported sightings I did not know about
Tanner. Once again, an interesting quiz takes me off on another research project.
Jim Baker
I didn't have any luck looking for birds sitting an a man's arm or sleeve. I asked my
wife if she knew what kind of bird it may be. She said it looks like some kind of big
woodpecker to her. I thought maybe this bird has become extinct. I googled images for
"extinct birds". There was an image of a bird that had the same white
marking on it's neck. So the bird is the ivory billed
woodpecker. My wife is gloating because she was right about it being a woodpecker.
Gary Sterne
The bird's beak indicated it was a wood-pecker, a species foreign to Australia but I do
have an interest in ornithology and do speak Latin so the hint was only of minor
assistance. I did not do a Tin Eye search for the photo you used.   
Richard Wakeham

How I solved this one: I happened to recognize the species, and knew it was considered
to have gone extinct in modern times. So I image-googled "last ivory billed
woodpecker" and found a similar photo which identified Tanner. Inserting his name as
an additional search term gave the above web page with your photo (flopped and
cropped) along with several others.                                                      
Collier Smith

N.B.  Although on occasion I do flop and crop photos, I didn't do so with this one.  
evidently, there's a wanna-be Quizmaster General out there (heaven forbid) who has
picked up on my clever tricks. - Q. Gen.

Gee, I must have been paying attention when I read the article about this photographer
and the bird in Smithsonian Magazine!  Well…I remembered the pictures anyway.
Carol Farrant
I purchased a book for my children's library several years ago called "The Race to Save
the Lord God Bird".  As soon as I saw the picture I suspected that was the bird
pictured.  I was a little thrown by its juvenile appearance.  It was not in keeping with
the picture I had in my head of the ivory-bill. I love this story and am pleased that soon
after I read the book about the ivory-bill a live specimen was seen in Arkansas and
other sightings have been reported. What a good puzzle.  Now I'll have to go back and
re-read the book.                                                                               
Mary Osmar

I'm actually married to 'the other' John Fitzpatrick on the Fitzpatrick DNA list :o) and
met you in Kilkenny this past year.

I think I am very fortunate that I work for the Environmental Protection Agency --
which combines my love for the environment and my administrative skills.

I just about squealed in delight when I saw the picture that you used in this past quiz --
I hope that some day soon that the Ivory Bill does come out of obscurity and dazzles us
all for it's ability to survive what we humans threw at it.                
Pamela Fitzpatrick

Sorry for the late submission, been busy at home and work, like you read about! This
was a good one----I had it outright, Yes, the "Holy Grail" of birdwatchers everywhere,
"The Ghost of the Southern Swamps", I knew it right away!!!, I started doing research
then looked at your hint only to start looking up the actual genus and species name as
[Rara avis] and thinking I was wrong!!!!!  Last time I look at one of your hints before I
write up the quiz!!!! Good One !!!  Hope all is well with you, and have a great week.
Robert W. Steinmann Jr.
I truly do hope they are extant. I love Pileated Woodpeckers, their fairly close
relatives.   I see them and hear them often down here in FL and used to see/hear them
in CT and MA also. I find nature to be quite soothing; I am at my deepest peace when I
am in the woods.                                                                              
Dennis Brann
I googled crested bill striped bird and went to and
linked on ivory-billed woodpecker. One of photos on site matched
description of bird in contest photo. Range map on website in part
shows all of Louisiana. Went to Wikipedia website and found a John
W. Fitzpatrick reference (Louisiana –hmmmm). I subsequently linked
to ibw resources (attached link) and found contest photo: James T.
Tanner – “the first and only person to do a scientific study on ivory
billed woodpeckers. His fine feathered friend “Sonny Boy” posed on
arm of game warden Kuhn circa 1937.

There appears to be ‘rara avia’ link to the Fitzpatricks, Cornell and
Louisiana – be it accidental or coincidental:

Mike Dalton

N.B.  It is accidental, although I'd classify most Fitzpatricks as
"rara avis" - Q. Gen.
Prior to the unconfirmed 2004 discovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker at Cache
River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, Tanner's was the last authenticated sighting
of the bird in the United States.
Click thumbnail to open in pdf.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis)
is or was one of the largest woodpeckers in the world,
at roughly 20 inches in length and 30 inches in
wingspan. It was native to the virgin forests of the
southeastern United States (along with a separate
subspecies native to Cuba).

The ivory-billed woodpecker once ranged through
swampy forests in the southeastern and lower
Mississippi valley states: from North Carolina to Florida
and west to eastern Texas and Arkansas, with some
1800s reports in Kentucky, Missouri and Oklahoma.
John James Audubon reported ivory-bills as far north as
the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers around
ScienceDaily (Jan. 19, 2009) — Until credible sightings
popped up three years ago, the scientific world was in
agreement that ivory-billed woodpeckers had gone the
way of the dodo. A new study conducted by University
of Georgia researchers reveals that the ivory-billed
woodpecker could have persisted if as few as five mated
pairs survived the extensive habitat loss during the early

A new paper published in the online journal Avian
Conservation and Ecology by researchers at the Warnell
School of Forestry and Natural Resources adds another
angle to the ongoing debate about modern existence of
the birds.

Crow-sized and native to America’s ancient southeastern
bottomland forests, the ivory-billed woodpecker was
thought to have gone extinct following indiscriminate
logging in the 1940s until reports began surfacing in the
flooded forests of eastern Arkansas in 2004. Crisp
photographic or genetic evidence continues to evade
eager seekers, however, and controversy has raged about
whether there were even enough of the woodpeckers left
to keep the species going through the latter part of the
20th century.
“It doesn’t prove that they do exist,” said Warnell
Professor Michael Conroy. “It just shows that they could
have persisted.”

Conroy is one of several scientists on the team who
conducted a population viability analysis, which was
funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also on the
team are Warnell post-doctoral students Brady Mattsson
and Rua Mordecai, Warnell professors James Peterson
and Robert Cooper, and Danish researcher Hans
The ivory-billed woodpecker—nicknamed the “Lord God
Bird” for its impressive physique and bold black and
white plumage—has been the subject of intense debate
among bird researchers. James Tanner, the only scientist
to have studied this woodpecker intensively, estimated
that only 24 breeding pairs remained in the 1930s.
Although there have been credible sightings of the birds
in Arkansas, Tennessee and the Florida panhandle,
undisputed evidence of the woodpeckers has eluded
ornithologists since the work of Tanner in the early
1900s. This lack of solid documentation has led many to
question whether the ivory-billed woodpecker could still
To find out, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered a
multi-state, intensive search effort for the elusive bird
and a population viability analysis, which, among other
things, assesses the population size and other factors
required for the population to persist over specified time

Mattsson, a former doctoral student working with
Cooper, took the lead on the modeling project by
constructing the population model and conducting the
analysis. Based on information gleaned from the literature
and unpublished sources on closely-related species of
woodpeckers, Mattsson considered plausible ranges of
initial population size, reproduction rates and adult
survival rates to play games of “what if” with simulated
woodpecker populations. What he found was that as few
as five breeding pairs of these large woodpeckers could
have ensured the persistence of ivory-billed woodpeckers
in wooded swamps of the southeastern U.S. to this day.
He said his model is not meant to prove their existence,
but “it gives people involved with the research team hope
that they’re still out there,” and shows that sufficient
levels of reproduction and survival are as important, if
not more important, than large numbers of individuals for
ensuring persistence of the species.

Cooper said that initially it was thought that the ivory-
billed woodpeckers had a very small chance of persisting
through modern times, but he believes Mattsson’s
analysis shows that the probability is larger than originally

Conroy is optimistic about implications from their
findings for similar species thought to have blinked out of

“I think it gives us hope that remnants of [species] out
Due to habitat destruction, and to a lesser extent hunting, its numbers have dwindled to
the point where it is uncertain whether any remain. The species is listed as critically
endangered and possibly extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN). The American Birding Association lists the Ivory-billed Woodpecker as a Class
6 species, a category they define as "definitely or probably extinct."

Reports of at least one male Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas in 2004 were
investigated and subsequently published in April 2005 by a team led by the Cornell Lab
of Ornithology (Fitzpatrick et al., 2005). No definitive confirmation of those reports
emerged, despite intensive searching over five years following the initial sightings.
In June 2006, a $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to the discovery of
an Ivory-billed Woodpecker nest, roost or feeding site. In December 2008, the Cornell
Lab of Ornithology announced a reward of $50,000 to the person who can successfully
lead a project biologist to a living Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

In late September 2006, a team of ornithologists from Auburn University and the
University of Windsor published reports of their own sightings of Ivory-billed

Robotic Cameras Join Search for "Holy
Grail of Bird Watching"
Science News, Feb 20. 2007

NASA Assists Search For Woodpecker
Thought To Be Extinct
Science Daily, Aug 29, 2006

A Case Of Mistaken Identity For The
Ivory-Billed Woodpecker?
Science Daily, Mar 16, 2007
Male Ivory Billed Woodpecker
Woodpeckers along the Choctawhatchee
River in northwest Florida, beginning in
2005 (Hill et al., 2006). These reports
were accompanied by evidence that the
authors themselves considered
suggestive for the existence of
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. Searches in
this area of Florida through 2009 failed
to produce definitive confirmation.

Despite these high-profile reports from
Arkansas, Florida, and sporadic reports
elseshere in the historic range of the
species since the 1940s, there is no
conclusive evidence for the continued existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker; i.e.,
there are no unambiguous photographs, videos, specimens, or DNA samples from
feathers or feces of the Ivory-billed. However, to protect any possible surviving
individuals, land acquisition and habitat restoration efforts have been initiated in certain
areas where there is a relatively high probability that the species may have survived.
The last confirmed sighting of the Ivory-billed
Woodpecker was in Madison Parish on the Singer
Tract (now the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge) in
1944.  In 2004 there was a disputed sighting in
Arkansas which was probably a Pileated Woodpecker
-- often mistaken for the Ivory-billed.

The last photos of an ivory-billed woodpecker were
taken by Dr. James Tanner in March 1938, and were
given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service upon the
establishment of Tensas National Wildlife Refuge in
1980 on lands of the former Singer Tract. Prior to the
2004 sightings, the Singer Tract is the location of the
last confirmed Ivory-billed Woodpecker in 1944.
(Click on thumbnail for a larger image)

In the early 1900s, conservationists warned of the
impending extinction of the Ivory-billed woodpecker.
Madison Parish, Louisiana
Photos of Historic Interest
The Ivory Billed Woodpecker
Nestling ivory-billed
woodpecker and J.J. Kuhn,
March 6, 1938
Description of the ivory-billed woodpecker:

Averaging about 20 inches in length, C. principalis is
frequently mistaken for the smaller but similarly marked
pileated woodpecker. Ornithologists distinguish the two
by the location of the white wing feathers: the full-width
white patch in the ivory-bill’s trailing wing feathers
(when seen from above) folds to form a white “saddle”
on its back when the bird is perched. Males have a
prominent scarlet crest; the female’s crest is black.
Top right: Pileated woodpecker;
Bottom right: Ivory billed woodpecker
The ivory-bill’s communication and flight:

Ivory-bills communicate with a vocalization that
ornithologists transcribe as “kent, kent, kent” and with
the “BAM-bam” double-rap of their bills pounding on
wood. Their swift, arrow-like flight through trees
resembles that of the pintail duck, unlike the slower,
swooping flight of the pileated woodpecker. Stiff wing
feathers make the ivory-bill an especially loud flyer.
People who saw the impressive ivory-bill in flight could
be forgiven for shouting, “Lord God, what a bird!” —
explaining why the ivory-bill is also known as the Lord
God Bird.
Double knocks from

To hear recordings of the
double-knocks recorded in
Arkansas between January
2005 and March 2006 that
have been attributed to the
ivory billed woodpecker,
The “Ivory” Bill

The “ivory” of the ivory-billed woodpecker is a keratin
sheath over the bill of bone. The broad bill continues to
grow from the ivory-bill’s thick-boned skull throughout
its life (potentially, up to 30 years) and is worn down by
rigorous pounding on trees.
Top right: Male plumage and bill;
Bottom right: Female plumage and bill
Habits and habitat of the ivory-billed

Ivory-bills are believed to mate for life. They share
the duties of incubating their china-white eggs and
raising their young, which usually leave the parents’
territory at the end of the season. A pair of ivory-
bills is estimated to need six square miles of uncut
forest, roughly 36 times as much territory as
pileated woodpeckers require. Ivory-bills excavate
trees to make nest holes (usually oval-shaped
openings between four and six inches in size,
extending 20 inches or more down into the tree, and
40 feet or higher above ground level).
Male ivory-billed woodpecker
at nest in red maple, April 1935
A Close Encounter With the Rarest Bird
Newfound negatives provide fresh views of the young ivory-billed woodpecker
by Stephen Lyn Bales
Smithsonian Magazine
September 2010
The ivory-billed woodpecker is one of the most
extraordinary birds ever to live in America’s forests:
the biggest woodpecker in the United States, it seems
to keep coming back from the dead. Once resident in
swampy bottomlands from North Carolina to East
Texas, it was believed to have gone extinct as early as
the 1920s, but sightings, confirmed and otherwise,
have been reported as recently as this year.

The young ornithologist James T. Tanner’s sightings
in the late 1930s came with substantial
documentation: not only field notes, from which he
literally wrote the book on the species, but also
photographs. In fact, Tanner’s photographs remain
the most recent uncontested pictures of the American
ivory-bill. Now his widow, Nancy Tanner, has
discovered more photographs that he took on a fateful
day in 1938.

Tanner was a doctoral candidate at Cornell University
when, in 1937, he was sent to look for ivory-bills in
Southern swamplands, including a vast virgin forest
in northeast Louisiana called the Singer Tract. Two
years earlier, his mentor, Arthur Allen, founder of the
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, had proved that
the “Lord God” bird—so named for what people
supposedly exclaimed after getting a look at its 20-
inch body and 30-inch wingspan—was still extant,
with observations of several adult ivory-bills in the
same forest.

“There are relatively few references to young
Ivorybills,” Allen wrote in 1937, “and there is no
complete description of an immature bird.” But that
would soon change.

On his initial solo trip to the Singer Tract, Tanner
became the first person to provide such a description,
after watching two adults feed a nestling in a hole
they’d carved high in a sweet gum tree. “It took me
some time to realize that the bird in the hole was a
young one; it seemed impossible,” he scribbled in his
field notes. When he returned to those woods in early
1938, he discovered another nest hole, 55 feet off the
ground in the trunk of a red maple. And in it he
discovered another young ivory-bill.

Watching the nest for 16 days, Tanner noted that the
bird’s parents usually foraged for about 20 minutes at
midday. No ivory-bill had ever been fitted with an
identifying band, so Tanner resolved to affix one to
the nestling’s leg while its parents were away.

On his 24th birthday, March 6, 1938, Tanner decided
to act. Up he went, on went the band—and out came
the ivory-bill, bolting from the nest in a panic after
Tanner trimmed a branch impeding his view of the
nest hole. Too young to fly, the bird fluttered to a
crash landing “in a tangle of vines,” Tanner wrote in
his field notes, “where he clung, calling and
squalling.” The ornithologist scrambled down the tree,
retrieved the bird and handed it to his guide, J. J.
Kuhn. “I surely thought that I had messed things up,”
Tanner wrote. But as the minutes ticked away, he
“unlimbered” his camera and began shooting, “jittery
and nervous as all get-out,” unsure of whether he was
getting any useful pictures. After exhausting his film,
he returned the bird to its nest, “probably as glad as
he that he was back there.”  To read more, click
In June 2009, eight
additional photographs were
found among Tanner's
belongings of his encounter
with the ivory billed
woodpecker.  To see the
whole set, click
Food source of the ivory-billed woodpecker:

Beetle larvae are the primary food source for
ivory-bills, which are often the first woodpeckers on
dying trees searching for these larvae. When beetle
larvae bore through the bark to feed on the sap wood
beneath, ivory-bills use their elongated beaks to pry
bark from the trees and expose the larvae.
Dead hackberry fed upon by ivory-billed
woodpeckers, June 1937