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Photo courtesy of Cliff Shackelford

Ivory-billed woodpecker

No woodpecker species in the U.S. is more sought-after by seasoned birders than this one, even though this species is presumed to be extinct. Some believe it’s still hanging on somewhere in its haunts in the southeastern U.S., yet slam-dunk proof is lacking. The ivory-billed was believed to be rediscovered in 2004 in the Cache River bottoms of Arkansas, but, despite a tremendous search effort, the scant evidence obtained wasn’t enough to convince everyone. To see one, I visited the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., in the early ’90s as a researcher. There, as shown in the photo above, I found the last specimens recorded for Texas, two male ivory-billeds collected just minutes apart in 1904 near Gaylor Lake, an old oxbow of the Trinity River at the Texas Highway 105 crossing east of Cleveland. Our nation’s largest woodpecker, the ivory-billed required large contiguous tracts of tall trees that included many dead and dying individuals (mainly caused by beaver dams, storm damage, wildfire, insect outbreaks, etc.). Most of their habitat has disappeared. To see one, visit one of a handful of museums that have a specimen on public display.


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