The Search for Giant Woodpeckers

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 26th, 2006

Tanner IBW

Are folks still interested in the search for the world’s biggest woodpeckers, the Ivory-billed and the Imperial Woodpeckers?

According to reports being published on September 26, 2006, and summarized in the Mobile, Alabama Press-Register, a haven for ivory-billed woodpeckers has been discovered in Florida.

Auburn University researchers published evidence today of what some are describing as an ivory-bill woodpecker “Shangri-La” in the Florida Panhandle, a couple of hours east of Mobile.

Researchers said they’ve had 13 sightings of the ivory bill, long thought to be extinct, and have recorded some 300 distinctive calls and sounds associated with the giant woodpecker, the largest in the United States and a virtual Holy Grail for many birders.

In a paper to be published today in the online journal Avian Conservation & Ecology, the researchers also will provide evidence of some 20 roost cavities in the Choctawhatchee River basin north of Panama City, Fla., and distinctive foraging techniques they believe to be unique to ivory bills.

There is no photographic evidence, though.

“We’ve got bad video,” the Auburn team’s lead researcher, Geoff Hill, said of footage his team shot in Florida. “We decided bad video is worse than no video, and it distracts from what is our good evidence.”

And later….

Instead of photographs, Hill and the Auburn team have assembled other lines of evidence — audio recordings of about 200 calls with a distinctive sound, often described as a “kent,” and 100 double raps; roost cavities that Hill said are much larger than cavities made by other Southern birds he’s analyzed; and an unusual pattern of bark removal, which Hill and his colleagues believe is most likely produced by the ivory bill’s large beak and powerful chiseling.

Imperial Woodpecker

Still I wonder, are people even interested any longer? I once asked here, “Could 2006 be the Year of the Imperial Woodpecker?”. In that earlier mostly ignored blog, I pondered the new Mexican sightings. But only a few people seemed to care. Are the discoveries of “extinct” woodpeckers yesterday’s news?

This male and female pair (below) of Imperial Woodpeckers are part of the collection of the Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso, and clearly show the black crest of the female, reported in the 2005 sighting. (Image courtesy of the Centennial Museum, The University of Texas at El Paso. Photograph taken by Scott Cutler)

Imperial Woodpecker

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

24 Responses to “The Search for Giant Woodpeckers”

  1. kittenz responds:

    I can’t speak for other people, but I care.

    Please continue to post anything you find about the Ivory-Billed and Imperial woodpeckers. It’s wonderful to have hope for their continued existence.

    Maybe there will even be a revival of other birds species long thought extinct, such as passenger pigeons and Carolina parakeets. There COULD be remnant populations of other birds in isolated locations.

  2. MrInspector responds:

    I’m always thrilled to find out about an extinct species being rediscovered. Unfortunately few programs exist to supply the funds needed to do the appropriate research to fully document these cases. I’m always left wanting more information, and more pictures. Speaking of, I’m gonna snag those,for identification purposes, I hope you don’t mind. Choctawhatchee is only a couple of hundred miles from here and I occasionaly get down that way. I’ve been trying to get some photos of a couple of pairs of bald eagles I spied down on the Alabama-Florida border. I found the roosts but I really want to get a shot of the birds. Every time I see them it’s from the highway and they are WAY up there. Next time I get down that way I am definately getting the eagle pics, If I have time i’ll try my luck with the Ivory Bill as well. Who knows? Lady luck hates me but on occasion, she slips up. If I get lucky, i’ll send them to Mr. Coleman.

  3. busterggi responds:

    Oh, there are plenty of us who care!

    To be able to prove such beautiful large birds are still with us might even get a few folks to support conservation. We are in danger of becoming cryptids ourselves.

  4. EastexQueenB responds:

    I’ve never heard of the Imperial Woodpeckers until I read this blog, just the Ivory Bill, which I’ve been following the occasional story of for years. I was thrilled this past year when they were supposedly re-discovered in Arkansas. I have a couple of breeding pairs of large Pileated woodpeckers that live in my immediate area, and I’m always happy to hear them “laughing”, mostly in the late afternoon. I’ve gotten to watch them raise a couple of broods the past two years in trees near my yard. I sincerely hope that there are surviving individuals of these beautiful birds.

  5. Brindle responds:

    Please keep us posted! I think it is wonderful when we actually manage NOT to wipe a critter out.

  6. Ceroill responds:

    I’ve been a follower of Ivory Billed developements for many years. I have always suspected that there would be some discovered again. Keep the news coming, Loren.

  7. planettom responds:

    I too follow the developments of the search for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. I truly hope this bird is “rediscovered”. I recently came across an article about how NASA teamed up with the University of Maryland and used the (LVIS) Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor onboard an aircraft to measure and assess the vegetation structure of the dense forest areas of the possible habitat for the woodpecker. They are using that data along with other recorded data to search for where they might find the bird. I believe more detailed search efforts will take place this fall.

    On a personal note, I enjoyed watching a family of red-headed woodpeckers this past spring. They had a roost in my neighbors back yard in a old tree. Beautiful birds. I also remember seeing a pileated woodpecker for the first time, and I was amazed at the size of this bird. Truly amazing.

    Good luck to those in pursuit of rediscovering the Ivory Billed Woodpecker.

  8. skunkape_hunter responds:

    Wow, I have one out on my property that looks like that! I never gave it any thought, but now I will have to take a closer look! I did however note that the bird was at least twice the size of the other woodpeckers around. What is the normal adult male size? The one I that I see has got to be at least a foot tall, maybe taller as it was about 60 yards away each time I saw it.

    If it turns out it is one, will they do stupid stuff like restrict my property?

  9. mystery_man responds:

    If they are still out there, I have to give credit to these birds for sticking it out. I am always pleased to see that an animal has not been wiped out. Hopefully they will get the protection they deserve.

  10. Sky King responds:

    “If they are still out there, I have to give credit to these birds for sticking it out.”

    In all honesty, the birds didn’t realize they’ve been “sticking it out”.

    You wouldn’t congratulate a fish for swimming, would you? Of course not. Like a fish, these woodpeckers just do what they are designed to do.

  11. Porkchop responds:

    Unless you are pulling our legs, skunkape, I would go to the Cornell Ornithology Lab webpage to distinguish it from the common Pileated Woodpecker, that sounds like Woody Woodpecker and has sort of a bandit mask of white on its face, and different wing patterns.

    In other more silly news, I was watching Adult Swim in a fit of insomnia and Pee Wee’s Playhouse came on, and in the intro, it looks like an Ivory Billed flying through the scene. Somebody back me up on this.

    Watch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network decide for yourself. Childish yes, but less childish than the Georgia Bigfoot hoax, and more verifiable.

  12. brineblank responds:

    One of my favorite families of birds. While in Georgia in the military they had restricted habitat because of woodpeckers and had trees banded that we had to stay clear of. It was always a treat to see some of the large ones flying by and hanging on the trees (although I’m not sure what species). At my dad’s we often see several types swarming around and their silhouettes are very ‘neat’ in appearance (for lack of a better word).

  13. Bob Michaels responds:

    I was informed by an e-mail from Bird Life int’l. I am always thrilled to hear of a new discovery or a previously species thought to be extinct we need to hear about a MOA, or a Dodo or a Thunderbird.

  14. cor2879 responds:

    Ignored? Well I do only read blogs that have the word ‘Bigfoot’ in the headline…

    Just kidding Loren! I read the article you posted then and of course read this one as well. Thanks for keeping the topics of your blogs so varied. We never know what you are going to post about next 😉

  15. LiberalDem responds:

    Loren, we *absolutely* do care. It’s just that there is so much going on in the world – in everyone’s life – that some of us spend less time on one subject than that subject really merits. The rediscovery of any animal which was presumed extinct is thrilling news. 🙂

  16. Trapster responds:

    I didn’t know they had such a large range, all the way through South Florida and into Cuba. I hope they find some! If I had time I’d love to be part of that search team.

  17. skunkape_hunter responds:

    No I am not pulling anyones leg. As I said I will have to take a closer look the next time I see it, maybe try to get a picture.

    The main thing that caught my attention was the size of the bird, it was very large. It did have red on the head, but I will have to get another look to see if it matches these birds. With that said I will probably never see it again now !! LOL 🙂

  18. EastexQueenB responds:

    Pileated Woodpeckers are fairly large birds (crow sized) with bright red crests and a red streak coming off the sides of their mouth, along with a black band or “mask” across a white face. They don’t have the white shoulder markings that the Ivory Bill or Imperial do, but share the same black body. They are a pretty impressive size, easily seen and kind of noisy when they’re around.

  19. kittenz responds:

    I suppose that the reason you get fewer comments on, say, recently rediscovered animals is that the news, while it is exciting, does not stir up the kind of controversy that Bigfoot & mystery animal sightings do.

  20. mystery_man responds:

    Sky King, I don’t think you understand what I was trying to say. It was a figure of speech. I think these birds did a wonderful job of surviving in a world where species die off all too commonly. Of course they are only doing what they are designed to do, and I admire the fact that they are “sticking it out” as I called it whether they are aware of it or not. I did not mean my comment to be taken so literally.

  21. sschaper responds:

    I think it is very appropriate for thought-to-be-extinct animals to be included in cryptozoology along with uncatalogued animals.

    One of the last preserves of amateur science (amatuer astronomers can detect extrasolar planets via the transit method, and discover comets) still available. And the most like the 19th century explorers clubs.

  22. MojoHotep responds:

    “Sticking it out” translates into an extreme ability by an individual species to “Survive” against all odds. It’s habitat destroyed, new chemicals in the environment affected it’s physiology, it had nowhere to run or hide, yet, it survived. You really gotta hand it to a species for having the genetic “Grit” to “stick it out” and pull off the improbable. It adapted and survived. Heck, I don’t just give it credit, I celebrate it’s “True Grit”. It may have been just instinct, but there’s alot of critters that didn’t have that instinct to survive and didn’t.

    I am hearing rumors of more pockets of Ivory Bills around the south, in some unexpected places. The verdict is still out though.

  23. JJohnston responds:

    What is the suposed range of the Imperial Woodpecker? I ask because I think I may have seen one while hunting one moring in East/Central Texas around Lake Limestone. I always find it interesting when we rediscover a supposed extinct species. It makes you wonder in awe at the adaptability of nature.

  24. MK2_Bigfoot responds:

    Put me down on the list that cares.

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