Newly Found Ivory-bill Images

Four previously unpublished photographs of Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpeckers


By Tim Gallagher

So few photographs of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker exist that it is always exciting when previously unpublished images of the bird show up. We are pleased to present some newly found images here—all of them depicting Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.


This previously unpublished photograph of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was taken by George R. Lamb during a 1956 research expedition to Cuba. At right, a blow-up of the same bird, showing its distinctive markings.

The picture above was taken by ivory-bill researcher George R. Lamb during his 1956 research expedition to Cuba. A recent college graduate, Lamb and his wife, Nancy, spent several months searching for and eventually studying a small remnant population of ivory-bills in northeastern Cuba, near Moa. The International Committee for Bird Preservation had given them a joint fellowship for studying rare Caribbean bird species, and the ivory-bill was a perfect candidate.

The two spent weeks camping out before finding any ivory-bills. They had a number of sightings and found a roost hole, but ultimately did not locate any nests.

Although Lamb published a paper about their Cuba research the following year (Lamb, G. R. 1957. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Cuba. Pan-American Section, Int. Comm. Bird Preserv., Res. Rep. no. 1), he did not include any photographs of the birds they saw.

I tried in vain to locate George Lamb while I was writing my book, The Grail Bird. I was eager to interview him about his experiences in Cuba. Unfortunately, I didn’t find him until my book was already published, but I did subsequently have some interesting conversations with George and Nancy Lamb. During one of our talks, he happened to mention that one day during his research expedition to Cuba he had taken some Ektachrome slides of a female ivory-bill foraging on a pine tree. He told me they were not great pictures. His camera did not have a telephoto lens, so the bird’s image was fairly small.

Obviously, I was very interested anyway, and he said he would try to find them for me. Several months later, he found six images and sent the best one to me. I was excited to see that, although the bird was tiny in the photograph, it was clearly identifiable as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, so we are publishing it here—along with a blown-up detail of the bird from the picture.


Photo courtesy of Harold Bucher

I also recently found out about some other intriguing Ivory-billed Woodpecker pictures. Alan W. Knothe, a birding guide for Nature Tours who lives in the Florida panhandle, told me that Harold Bucher, an elderly Florida man who had lived in Cuba as a child, had some old black-and-white pictures of ivory-bills taken by his father shortly before World War II. Bucher’s father and a partner had opened a sawmill near Moa in northeastern Cuba during the late 1930s, when the area was still quite wild and remote.  A couple of years ago, Bucher was cleaning up after Hurricane Charley when he discovered the pictures in his father’s personal effects.

One of them (left) depicts an ivory-bill perched on the trunk of a dead tree, right beside a large cavity—perhaps the bird is at its nest or roost hole. The other two pictures are disturbing, depicting two different views of a captive Ivory-billed Woodpecker perched on a stake, with a length of twine tied to its leg (below). We are publishing these pictures here for the first time.

Unfortunately, no data were attached to these photographs, except for the year “1941” scrawled in ink on the back. Bucher is fairly certain that the pictures were taken near Moa, but we have no way of knowing exactly where or what happened to the birds in the photographs, so they may remain a mystery.



Photos courtesy of Harold Bucher


We are always eager to receive Ivory-billed Woodpecker reports (or pictures), even old ones like these. They all help to fill in the pieces of the puzzle about the ivory-bill. So few pictures and first-hand observations exist for this species, that everything we get is vital.

To find out the latest information about the ongoing searches for this species, visit the "Current Search" section of this web site. And to report a sighting (or to tell us about a photograph) send an email to ivorybill@cornell.edu.   

This is the web version of an article that first appeared in the Winter 2007 edition of Living Bird.