According to our readers, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is everywhere! Here: seven independent sightings!

April 21, 2022 • 8:30 am

The other day I posted a video in which a researcher claimed to have sighted an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the wet bottomlands of Louisiana. It didn’t prove to me that the bird still exists, but raised my Bayesian probability that it does.

One reason why researchers haven’t yet accepted the existence of the bird is that there are still no unequivocal identifying photos or videos of this bird in the wild. The more recent photos and videos are tantalizing, and make me think that it’s more probable than not that Campephilus principalis has not yet become an ex-species, singing with the Choir Invisible. But I’m still not convinced.

Yet over the last two days, a bunch of readers—seven, to be exact—have made comments asserting confidently that they have seen this bird. None of them have expressed doubt. My first response would be “No you haven’t: you’ve seen a Pileated Woodpecker”.  If Ivorybills were that common, showing up in people’s backyards (!), then we would have good evidence by now.

So, go to the thread here; I’ve posted all the sightings that readers claim to have made. And feel free to answer those claims (or comment on them), but be polite. My response was “find a bird expert IMMEDIATELY, tell them, and get some good photos.”  Birders can contact me if they want me to email the claimants telling them how they have to document the bird. Better yet, birders should VISIT all these people NOW.

Here we go. The first one has my response:


But wait! There are several more!

This one gives a phone number. Ornithologists and birders—GET ON IT!


For others who want to claim they’ve seen the real Ivorybill, here’s how to tell it from the similar (but smaller) Pileated Woodpecker. Look for the white “saddle” formed by the folded wings, as well as the sexual dimorphism.


Here’s the real bird from an Audubon website:

(From website): A colorized rendition of a photograph taken by Arthur Allen of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker at a nest in Louisiana’s Singer Tract, 1935. Photo: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

21 thoughts on “According to our readers, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is everywhere! Here: seven independent sightings!

  1. I’ll wager that none of these claims of seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker is true. However you can still see the rare Red-cockaded Woodpecker here in Virginia in Sussex County.

    Loss of 97% of longleaf pine forest ecosystem and the woodpeckers’ habitat is what happens when poorly regulated capitalism meets unsatisfied greed. We’ve destroyed over 90 million acres of longleaf pine and we continue to destroy what precious little remains for “development”.

    1. Yes, none of those comments mention any specific field marks that allowed them to distinguish their bird from a Pileated Woodpecker. Because none of these commenters seem to be aware of the need to differentiate the two, I think none of these are even worth looking into.

      1. Yes, and furthermore several of the comments imply a general lack of ornithological knowledge – e.g “OMG Woody Woodpecker looks just like that bird!”.

    2. It would be a great thrill if the citizen-scientists (including the professional scientists who study fields other than ornithology), can generate anything + or – to refine the chances.

      The bird is “all field mark” as Peterson says about the bald eagle, but you still have to know what to look for. I can see how you could confuse them on quick sight with a pileated, which is common locally with the right habitat. We had three at once at our peanut feeder last year.

  2. There is no point in making such extraordinary claims unless there is extraordinary evidence for it. The video and other evidence recently shared does rise that that level, but only just barely. And even that could still be wrong, imo.

  3. This is intriguing – my Bayes-O-meter is bouncing around – the discrimination between the two birds is intriguing.

  4. Yup. Don’t get me wrong: I love pileated woodpeckers, but they sure cause a lot of confusion in this situation.

    I guess I’d suggest that the observers look carefully at the posted pictures of the two woodpecker species. If they still think they saw an ivorybill they could try posting their sighting to ebird on the Internet, where it will be flagged and the observer will be asked to provide more details about the sighting. I can’t guarantee the ebird moderator will take the sighting seriously—they may get a lot of bogus reports.

    I was interested to see (on Wikipedia) that ivorybills were apparently found historically in extreme western Tennesse. Virginia was not part of the historical range of the species.

  5. One of the main issues I have is that there would need to have been a self-sustaining population of birds living in the area since the 1930’s. One or 2 individuals isn’t enough.

    They were easy enough to photograph then so why not now? They’re gone and no amount of guilty feeling will bring them back.

    1. I believe most published pics from before presumed extinction were taken from nest cavity level blinds. The Latta eg al preprint says something to this effect

    1. He has the best people saying this to him – just wait – its going to be huge. Its coming up soon.

  6. I am trying to keep a lid on my excitement. It’s common to interpret another’s actions based on what one would do themself in a similar situation. Since I (as a very amateur birder) would be highly skeptical that I was seeing an Ivory without hugely compelling evidence, I tend to hope and even assume these reports have also passed that initial filter test. Thus, reading these anecdotal notes gets me quite hopeful.

    Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that any care at all was taken when casual observers report a rare species…..though I would think that readers here would not be cavalier in what they post. Serious documented discoveries of previously unknown or rare species sometimes do start with anecdotal information. So I like that you are calling for investigation into these. This series of posts along with others has the possibility of helping blow the whole thing wide open and a species being rediscovered. We shall see.

  7. Non-birders, and also new birders, are still learning about field marks from a field guide,so they always fumble bird IDs consistently. It takes years before a new birder is able to take in all the relevant field marks at one time, or pick out the significant ones that definitively provide an accurate ID of the species. There was once an article entitled “Where have all the rare birds gone?”. The author referred to the fact that beginning birders are alway seeing rarities that the rest of us don’t see, which of course inevitably turn out to be common birds misidentified.(In my first birding days I was sure I saw a Mountain Plover, from Colorado, on Long Island NY,but it turned out to be, of course, a Black-bellied Plover). The only non birder report I might, might, take seriously would be a low land flooded forest hunter who more or less lives in the Ivory Bill’s habitat and being a hunter has keen eye and perhaps a better visual memory. But those who see them in their back yard??? And who apparently dont even own a bird guide or binoculars????Wishful thinking. If the latest technology and photos aren’t definitive proof, then backyard sightings arent going to change things. However, I do appreciate the strenuous stringent efforts made by these scientists. Now let’s hope we can devote just as much effort to prevent OTHER species from going extinct. That’s our real challenge, and the backyard birders should join in. PS: any credible sitings from Cuba???

      1. I don’t think they have found a nesting hole and/or samples have been contaminated (I did post doctoral work with Latta and have heard some rumors the last few years)

  8. Tony’s Indian Hens is a name for piliated woodpeckers-

    His grandpa might have seen an Ivory bill perhaps but how often would you see one close enough to spot the female’s black crest for example? Against light sky it could easily make a red crest seem black.

    I would say long zoom cameras are so cheap these days someone would have a photo by now.

    It is like aliens or UFOs, cameras are so ubiquitous, where are the photos?

    Nonetheless I would follow up these especially Christy – swamps with big tall trees are not so frequented by woodpecker experts that it could not be possible small populations survive that no one notices. If I were rare I would hope everyone thought I was extinct, then have a better chance of survival!

  9. Yep, I agree with most of the commenters here. Even if the Ivory-billed is not extinct these eyewitnesses clearly do not know much about birds and are quite obviously seeing the relatively common Pileated woodpecker.

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