Descriptions of Ivory-billed Woodpecker Flight

Relevant to our analysis of the Luneau video are the following descriptions from numerous naturalists and ornithologists who described the flight of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  Most of these first-hand accounts describe the Ivory-bill’s flight as powerful and direct, in comparison with the typical swooping or undulating flight of a Pileated Woodpecker. Indeed the bird in the Luneau video flies with rapid wingbeats in a direct path for the entire time it is in view, completing 10 wingbeats in roughly 1.2 seconds before going behind the tree. Its flight pattern remains rapid and direct as it moves off to the left and eventually disappears amidst the tupelo trunks.

“In flight, the Ivory-bill looks surprisingly like a Pintail duck. Its neck is long and slender, its tail long and tapering. The position of the white on the wing is by far the best field character at all times. The white is on the  rear half of the wing, conspicuous in flight, and visible on the back when the bird is perched.”

-Tanner, James T. "Three Years with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, America’s Rarest Bird," Audubon. January-February 1941. Vol. 43, no. 1.

“The manner of flight cannot be used as a reliable field character. Much has been said and written on how the Ivory-bill flies directly and straight; while the Pileated’s flight undulates, but I have frequently seen Pileateds fly directly, in no way different from the flight of the larger bird. In fact, both birds vary considerably in their manner of flight. Nor can the amount of white visible on the wing of a flying bird be used as a character, as the open wing of a Pileated shows as much white from beneath as does the wing of an ivory-bill.

 In flight the Ivory-bill looks surprisingly like a Pintail; its neck is long and slender, its tail long and tapering, and the wings rather narrow. The important field character is that the white on the wing is on the rear half. By comparison a Pileated is stocky and with shorter wings, the tail is slightly forked, and the white is on the front half of the wing.

To summarize, the position of the white on the wing is by far the most reliable field character at all times. In the Ivory-bill the white is on the rear half of the wing and is visible on the back when the bird is perched and its wings folded. In the Pileated the white is on the front half of the wing and is hidden when its wings are folded. (page 1)

-Tanner, James T. 1942. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Res. Rep. no. 1, Natl. Audubon Soc., New York

“When they rose in the air, they flapped their wings in deep and rapid strokes after the manner of a crow or a duck, and they flew in a direct line, not in the undulating way that woodpeckers generally use. . . . Beneath they were blacker than Pileated Woodpeckers, but the dorsal side of the flying bird was broadly and conspicuously white. For no other bird could it be mistaken.” (page 102)

-Christy, Bayard. "The Vanishing Ivory-bill," Audubon. March-April 1943. Vol. 46, no. 2.

"They're big birds, I tell you, big and black and white; and they fly through the woods like Pintail Ducks." (Mason Spencer describing the ivory-bill's flight to George Miksch Sutton; page 191.)

"Her flight was swift and direct--somewhat, indeed, like a Pintail Duck, though her wings did not beat as rapidly as a duck's." (page 195) – George M. Sutton

- Sutton, G. M., 1935. (“Kints” - pps. 185-96) "Kints" – Birds in the Wilderness, MacMillan Co., New York.

"When they flew, they pitched off on a straight line, like ducks, their wings making a wooden sound." (pps. 156-57)

-Peterson, R. T., and James Fisher, 1955. "Ivory-bill Quest," Wild America, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

 “After resting quietly for a time she suddenly flew off in straight ducklike flight in which there seemed to be very little movement of the ‘inner wing’—the secondaries—most of the action being beyond the wrist.” –  Don Eckelberry (page 206)

-Eckelberry, Don R. 1961. "Search for the Rare Ivorybill," In Discovery: Great Moments in the Lives of Outstanding Naturalists, John K. Terres, ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, pp.195-207.

“The uniform direct flight of the ivorybill resembles that of the Red-headed Woodpecker more than it does the swooping undulating flight of the Pileated, and this general resemblance is emphasized by the large amount of white in the wings. . . . [I]t is remarkable how ducklike the bird can appear as it flies swiftly and directly up a lagoon, so much so in fact that certain Louisiana hunters have told me that they have even shot at them under such circumstances, mistaking them for ducks.” (page 12)

-Bent, A. C. 1939. "Ivory-billed Woodpecker," Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds, Smithsonian Inst. National Museum Bulletin 174: 13-24, U.S. Govt. Printing Office.

"His tail was always closed and pointed in flight, his head and bill straight out; his wings looked much more pointed than a Pileated's, and narrower, but this might be an illusion on account of the large amount of white." (page 176)

"The tail is kept closed in flight, and owing to the large amount of white in the wings they appear much narrower than the Pileated's. The head is carried straight forward so the impression given by the bird at a distance is much more that of a duck than of a large woodpecker." (page 183)

-Allen, A. A., Kellogg, P. P. 1937. "Recent observations on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker," Auk 54: 164-184.

"When they fly, you see the white on the trailing edge of the wing feathers distinctly--much more white than you see on a Pileated Woodpecker's wings when it flies. It stands out quite clearly. They fly with their head and neck straight out, like a pintail duck, going fast and straight--they don't undulate. And they make a wooden sound with their wings, because they keep them flat and hit the air. Most artists who paint the ivory-bill have it bent in the wrist, but these birds keep their wings very flat. And their tails are pointed."  --Nancy Tanner (page 42)

-Gallagher, Tim. 2005. The Grail Bird, Houghton Mifflin.

"From [Tanner] we learn that ivory-bills have a strong direct flight similar to that of a northern pintail (Anas acuta), with steady, rapid wing beats. . .Tanner described ivory-bill flight as noisy, the wings producing a ‘loud, wooden, fluttering’ sound as an ivory-bill took flight and beat its wings strongly, and a ‘swishing whistle’ as one flew past.” (pages 15-16)

-Jackson, Jerome A. 2004. In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, D.C.



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