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.

FWC Facts:
Numerous marine species, like blue crabs, redfish, white shrimp, stingrays, tarpon, are found more than 100 miles upstream in the freshwater portions of the St. Johns River.

Learn More at AskFWC