Identifying the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and the Pileated Woodpecker

Think you have seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Or perhaps you are planning on searching for one? Here are important field marks and other information you'll need to distinguish Ivory-billed Woodpeckers from Pileated Woodpeckers.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Campephilus principalis

  • Habitat is old-growth river forest
  • Feeds primarily on beetle larvae
  • Large bird, approximately 19½ inches long
  • Pale ivory-white bill
  • Dark face and dark chin
  • Crest is curved and pointed
  • Male's crest is bright red; female's is entirely black
  • Two white stripes, which don't touch the bill, run from either side of the head and converge on the lower back
  • White secondary feathers give appearance of a white "saddle" on the back
  • Tail feathers are long and come to a point
  • White trailing edge of the wing
  • Call is a single loud tooting sound, somewhat similar to a nuthatch ( Ivory-billed Woodpecker Call recorded in 1935; © 2005 Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
  • Makes strong, single or double raps on trees
  • Trees with extensively peeled bark are a characteristic sign of ivory-bill foraging

Pileated Woodpecker
Dryocopus pileatus

  • Inhabits a wide variety of mature forest types
  • Feeds on carpenter ants in fallen trees and stumps
  • Crow-sized bird, approximately 16½ inches long
  • Dark-colored bill
  • White chin. Male has red "moustache" on the face, touching the bill
  • Male and female have red caps, not as pointed as an ivory-bill
  • Two white stripes on the face touch the bill and run under wings
  • Solid-colored back
  • Shape of the tail feathers is more rounded
  • Dark trailing edge of the wing
  • Call is a single loud "kuk" or irregular series of notes, somewhat similar to a northern flicker
  • Makes loud, territorial "drumming" sound
  • Excavates long, rectangular holes in trees

The following diagrams show field marks of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and other species with similar species. Select the thumbnail for a larger image (PDF File-105 KB). All images courtesy of David Allen Sibley.

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Additional Information:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) brochure about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
(PDF File)

The renowned artist David Allen Sibley has painted a "mock field guide page" for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, showing characteristic field marks for both male and female birds. (PDF File)

Historical range map of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, plus additional maps depicting the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers range in 1880 and 1930.



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