For the Birds Radio Program: Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Original Air Date: June 11, 1986

Laura talks about a bird that has almost certainly vanished forever, unless it’s still hanging out in Cuba.

Duration: 3′23″


(Recording of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker).

That’s one sound you’ll probably never hear in the wild–the call of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It’s probably extinct in the United States–there hasn’t been any good evidence that the bird exists in thirty years. This recording was made on an ornithological expedition to Louisiana in 1937.

(Recording of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker).

A Cuban subspecies of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was also thought to be extinct, but just two months ago, a couple of Cuban scientists discovered two females and a male about 500 miles eat of Havana. The Cuban government immediately stopped the logging in the area, and is trying to protect the last survivors of this ancient species, with the help of some American ornithologists. Wildlife often bridges the political differences of governments.

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are probably gone forever from the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a challenge to ornithologists and birders to find one of them before October, 1992, or it will declare the species officially extinct. That may seem silly or pointless, but as long as the bird remains on the endangered species list, the government must preserve its habitat in the bottomlands of Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas. Naturally, the Fish and Wildlife Service does not want to destroy any of the bird’s habitat if there are still some around, but then again, they do not want to spend money and time protecting a non-existent bird.

Every extinct species diminishes us all, especially when man is the direct cause of extinction. The primary reason for the decline of the Ivory-bill appears to be the loss of habitat caused by logging of southern pine trees, cypress trees, and bottomland hardwood trees. But we in Duluth can at least take some comfort in the fact that Ivory- billed Woodpeckers were never found up here–they only went as far north as Ohio and southern Illinois. And we still have our own species of giant woodpecker, the Pileated Woodpecker.

(Recording of the Pileated Woodpecker).

The Pileated Woodpecker is the bird that inspired the creation of Woody Woodpecker. It is as large as a crow, mostly black with white patches on the wings, and a big, pointed red crest. The population of Pileated Woodpeckers in this region seems to be surging this year. Spruce budworm is currently attacking a lot of our trees. Once a tree is weakened by budworm, it becomes vulnerable to attack from other diseases and insects as well–providing food and shelter for pileateds. In the natural world, even a blight as ugly as spruce budworm has its good side.

Although pie-lee-ate-ed is the first pronunciation given in Webster’s New World Dictionary, pill-ee-ate-ed is also listed, and is equally correct. As far as anyone can tell, the birds seem to have no preference.

(Call of the Pileated Woodpecker).

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”