This article contains historical information about the ivory-billed
woodpecker, including range, habitat, and past observances.
The greatest number of historical reports and collected
specimens of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are from Florida, perhaps
owing to Florida's accessibility to northeastern
ornithologists. Within Florida, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are
known to have existed throughout the state from the Panhandle to
the Everglades. However, records from extreme southern
Florida are controversial.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were probably most numerous in three
regions: 1) riparian systems, or areas located near rivers and
streams, and associated pine woods in northern Florida; 2) the Big
Cypress swamp in southwest Florida; and 3) swamp forests associated
with several rivers in central peninsular Florida. Riparian
systems in northern Florida historically had the most Ivory-billed
Woodpeckers, particularly the Chipola and Apalachicola river swamps
in the Panhandle, the Wacissa and Aucilla river swamps in the Big
Bend region, and the lower Suwannee River and adjacent California
swamp. Although relative abundance is difficult to detect
from historical reports, some reports suggest that Ivory-billed
Woodpeckers may have been more abundant in the lower Suwannee River
watershed than in any other region in the state.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers declined continuously since the arrival
of Europeans, with accelerated declines during the last decades of
the 1800s and first decades of the 1900s. By 1900,
Ivory-bills were gone from most parts of northern Florida.
Collecting was undoubtedly an important factor in the decline of
the species in Florida. Timber cutting and habitat loss also
were very important factors in the continued decline of the species
in Florida. As the twentieth century progressed, only small
groups persisted mainly in southern and central Florida.
A series of credible sightings occurred in northern Florida
during the 1950s along the Chipola River and in Taylor, Jefferson
and Wakulla counties but were never conclusively verified.
Former Cornell University scientist James Tanner once suggested
that "all Ivory-bill records have been located in or very near
swamps or Florida hammocks." However, most of Tanner's
intensive field studies were done in bottomland forests and this
may have influenced his perception of an ideal Ivory-billed
Woodpecker habitat. The salient feature of Ivory-billed
Woodpecker habitat appears to be old-growth forest. Most
historical Ivory-billed Woodpecker habitat in Florida can be
characterized as river swamp, although still water swamps,
particularly cypress swamps and cypress strands, were a significant
The Apalachicola and Chipola swamps, the Aucilla and Wacissa
rivers, and the lower Suwannee River watershed may be the three
most significant areas of potential Ivory-billed Woodpecker habitat
remaining in Florida because of the extensive tracts of bottomland
forest that remain there.