Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Vs Pileated Woodpecker: Are They Related?

Updated: Oct. 18, 2022

Birders may compare an ivory-billed woodpecker vs a pileated woodpecker, as they share many traits. Experts weigh in on any family relation.

Are These Woodpeckers Close Relatives?

An adult pileated woodpecker sits on a fallen log next to some flowers.Courtesy Benn Whitwell
We asked birding experts to compare an ivory-billed woodpecker vs a pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpeckers and their (probably) extinct look-a-likes, ivory-billed woodpeckers, have many similar traits.

That made Birds & Blooms reader Susan Shepherd of Sanford, Michigan, wonder if these large woodpeckers share any family ties. She wrote to birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman asking they are related. Here is their answer:

Kenn and Kimberly: These similar woodpeckers might seem to be close cousins. But they actually belong to different groups that are only distantly related. The ivory-billed woodpecker’s closest relatives (genus Campephilus) live in the American tropics. The genus of the pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus) includes the black woodpecker of Europe and Asia.

Unrelated but similar pairs occur elsewhere in the woodpecker family, too. Downy and hairy woodpeckers, familiar backyard visitors over much of North America, look almost identical except for size, but they are actually not close relatives. And in Asia, the greater yellownape and lesser yellownape—which are green woodpeckers with yellow in their crests—are near look-alikes but are not related at all.

Learn all about red-bellied woodpeckers.

Ivory-Billed Vs Pileated Woodpecker Characteristics

A pileated woodpecker perched on a rotting tree looking for bugs.Photo 56864729 © | Dreamstime.com
A pileated woodpecker perched on a rotting tree looking for bugs.

Both types of woodpeckers share a few distinct traits including their incredible size and black-and-white coloring. These woodpeckers peck at trees using their huge pointed beaks and tongues.

Pileated woodpeckers are the largest widespread woodpecker in the United States. Ivory-billed woodpeckers were larger than pileateds. But with the last confirmed sighting nearly eight decades ago, ivory-billed woodpeckers are in the process of being labeled an extinct bird species.

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Ivory-Billed Vs Pileated Woodpecker Range

An illustration of two ivory billed wood peckerImagezoo/Getty Images
Illustration of ivory billed woodpeckers

Pileated woodpeckers live throughout most of the eastern United States, along with parts of the Northwest and Canada. Look for them in mature forests.

Historically, ivory-billed woodpeckers were found in swamps in the Southeast. The last confirmed sighting was in 1944 in Louisiana. Many more unconfirmed reports have surfaced in Arkansas and other areas of the South.

Read more mind-blowing woodpecker facts.