Nature Nugget – The Ivory-billed Woodpecker

On February 11, 2004, an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was seen in the Big Woods region of eastern Arkansas on the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. Over the next 12 months, it was seen several more times and captured on video. This find is significant, because the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was last officially seen in North America in 1944 in northeast Louisiana.

One of six species of birds officially declared to be extinct in North America north of Mexico, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker shook the scientific community with its reappearance. How many individuals may be surviving in this area is unknown, and to find out, researchers have already started expeditions into this vast area of bottomland hardwoods. The finding of this bird has given hope that other remote woodlands of the south may be harboring other individuals as well.

Up to 21 inches in length and having a wingspan of 30–31 inches, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America north of Mexico and the third largest woodpecker in the world. This black and white woodpecker sports a large, ivory-white, chisel-tipped bill and bright yellow eyes. Males have a red crest, while the female’s crest is black and often curved forward.

Native to the southeastern United States and the Mississippi River alluvial plain as far north as St. Louis, Missouri, and with a subspecies (last seen in 1988) occurring on the island of Cuba, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a bird of remote wilderness areas, preferring virgin forests of hardwoods, cypress swamps, and pine savannahs. Never occurring in high densities, an Ivory-billed Woodpecker pair requires about ten square miles of old-growth forests to survive—more if the habitat is degraded. Their diet consists mainly of beetle larvae, which they find by using their chisel-like bills to remove the bark of recently dead trees, but they also eat seeds, berries, and fruits.

The clearing of old growth forests for timber and agricultural development is the single main cause for the decline of this species. Since the cutting of the last of the old-growth forests during the 1940s, scientists have proclaimed the Ivory-billed Woodpecker extinct, and the scientific community met sightings after 1944 with skepticism. Learned men of the scientific community reasoned that the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers could no longer survive because of the lack of old-growth forests, and numerous sight reports over the past 60 years, even very well described sightings by reliable people, were ridiculed. One sighting even produced photos, which were promptly rejected as a hoax. Because of this, some sightings were probably never reported for fear of losing one’s credibility.

Learned men of science have been saying for years that there is no way the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still survives. Even the current world authority on this species say that if any are surviving, Arkansas has the least potential habitat for it of all the possible states in which it might still occur.

God, through the survival of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker into the twenty-first century, has shown how learned men of science are not infallible. In Noah’s day, learned men of science said there could never be a flood and scoffed at Noah’s warning. “The most difficult and humiliating lesson that man has to learn is his own inefficiency in depending upon human wisdom, and the sure failure of his efforts to read nature correctly.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 257. “God and heaven alone are infallible.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 30.