Ivory-billed Woodpecker and UFOs

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Ivory-billed Woodpecker

On occasion someone e-mails me telling me that they have just spotted an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It is almost certain that what they saw was the Pileated Woodpecker, found throughout the eastern U.S., the Pacific Northwest, and southern Canada, and a close relative of the Ivory-billed.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) was one of the largest woodpeckers in the world, 20 inches in length with 30 inch wings. In 2004, reports of a sighting were investigated but could not be confirmed. 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 Nature Conservancy announced a reward of $50,000 for leading a project biologist to a living Ivory-billed Woodpecker. In spite of many claims and several expeditions by ornithologists, no clear evidence has been found for the continued existence of the Ivory-billed. It is almost certainly extinct.

There have been no confirmed sightings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker since 1948. This black-and-white bird lived in old-growth forests of the southeastern U.S. and Cuba. Its food was primarily beetle larvae which it obtained by stripping the tree bark with its ivory-colored bill. Because of its specialized feeding habits, the bird required a large area of mature forests of dead standing trees where the beetle larvae live. The species disappeared after forest clearing destroyed millions of acres of virgin forest throughout the South between the 1880s and mid-1940s. According to Wikipedia, “In 1938, an estimated 20 individuals remained in the wild, some 6-8 of which were located in the old-growth forest called the Singer Tract in Louisiana where logging rights were held by the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. The company brushed aside pleas from four Southern governors and the National Audubon Society that the tract be publicly purchased and set aside as a reserve, and clearcut the forest. By 1944 the last known Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a female, was gone from the cut-over tract.”

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, like the Labrador Duck, Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, and Great Auk have all slipped into extinction in the past century or so, but they did exist, as photos, skins, and other evidence attest. And it’s easy to understand why people confuse the similar Pileated Woodpecker with the Ivory-billed. What I don’t understand is why some folks still believe in Sasquatch, the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness Monster, or that supposed dinosaur that still lives in the swamps of the Congo. There is no good evidence for any of these supposed creatures.

If there were a Sasquatch living in the well-populated Pacific Northwest, don’t you think that we’d have found bones, fossils, skins, or other evidence that could be DNA tested? But some people enjoy believing in the supernatural, and reject the more boring scientific evidence. Reminds me of the rash of UFO sightings in the 60s and 70s. All kinds of unconfirmed sightings and fuzzy photos were entered into “evidence” for alien vehicles from outer space. Isn’t it interesting now that nearly everyone carries camera capabilities with them on their smart phones that there are no more sightings?

I received an e-mail from someone who claimed to have seen the Ivory-bill. He said he contacted the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and they didn’t believe him. I told him I didn’t believe him either as he had no evidence. I suggested that if he had taken a photo, that would have helped. That prompted a comment from another reader who haughtily said “well, everyone doesn’t carry a camera.” Well, actually, most people do – on their cell phone. But had the e-mailer had a photo it would’ve been of a Pileated Woodpecker because the emailer saw the bird in the state of Washington, thousands of miles from the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s range!

Pileated Woodpecker

Another comment on this blog came from someone claiming to have several Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in his yard but that nobody wants to see  them. With the usual excuses – no camera, birds fly away, etc. he has no evidence. Interestingly, the commenter says that the birds have solid red heads. If you look at the illustrations, it’s the Pileated Woodpecker that has the solid red head.

The commenter says no one wants to spend the airfare to fly out there and see his claimed Ivory-bills so the reward must be a hoax. I told him I would travel there at my own expense and would write him a check for $50,000 if the birds are actually Ivory-bills.  His response: stay away from my property.

The difference between UFOs as alien vehicles and Ivory-billed Woodpeckers is that the woodpeckers once existed. We have proof in the form of skins and thus DNA so we know that the bird once existed. We have zero evidence that beings from outer space visited earth.


14 thoughts on “Ivory-billed Woodpecker and UFOs”

  1. I have some footage shot today of either a huge pileated or an ivory bill. I’m in Florida.
    Want to see it?

    The bird had a doubled drum peck. Distinctly

      1. Dr. Lederer, my name is Daniel Hurt and I am a retired US. Fish and Wildlife Service employee of about 30 years. Please let me know if you get my email as I have just found your Ornithology web site. I am still devoting my time with wildlife (Migratory Birds) conservation, and am interested in recording population losses and reasons why. Sincerely, Daniel Hurt

  2. Hello, I firmly believe I have a ivory billed living on my farm I’m in northeast Louisiana and live in the deep woods next to the river. I’ve seen the bird a dozen times but never have been able to get a clear picture. I will do my best to gather more evidence. I do understand that it is more likely to be pillated but I have extremely sharp eyes and have seen the double white on its back

  3. I might have a video of one. Caught it on an obscure children’s TV show. Four second shot of it double pecking a tree. I’m pretty familiar with pileated woodpeckers (I see one or two every week, I work in the woods) and this doesn’t look like a pileated to me. I’d gladly send the video if you’d like.

  4. Interestingly, none of these above reported sightings seemed to have panned out. I watch diligently for rare birds. What they’re seeing is the pileated 99.9999% of the time. The other .0001% are hallucinating. Lol.

  5. Pingback: The ivory-billed woodpecker: The world’s most controversial extinct species – A Bit of Bio

  6. In early January, 1983 my friend Barbara and I were packing up to go hone from a camping trip in the campground in the Wharton Tract in NJ below the Caranza Memorial. We decided to go for one last walk down the road in the campground. It was getting late in the evening. i did not take my binoculars with me but Barbara did. Suddenly we saw a large bird come gliding across the campground road. We did not know what it was. I was a beginning birder so I looked at the bird very carefully for id marks. It was larger then a crow and the wing was black in front and white on the trailing edge. I took a good look at the birds body. It was all black (including the head) except for the white stripe running down the side of the body. It was definitely a female Ivorybill. Barbara identied it right away but I searched for 3 years until I found a book that said the Ivroybill was endemic to the state of New Jersey. It nests in the pine forests on the coast. The bird landed on a tree and did make a call. It sounded like the tone on the Ivorybill but was not loud. It flew in a straight line. When we were hiking with Outdoor Club of S Jersey a black and white flew by a few times. Once was on Forked River Mountain. A man got very excited and asked if we knew what the bird was. None of us knew birds at that time. He said it looked like and Ivorybill and they were supposed to be extinct. I have wanted to tell this story for a long time, but when I did no none believed me. They said I saw a pileated. I saw a female Ivorybill and their is no doubt in my mind. I saw the white trailing edge, the black head and the white stripe on the side.

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