Ivory Billed and Pileated Woodpecker Specimens Side by Side

In December 2011, I had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes view of the bird collection at the Smithsonian, and do some direct comparisons of Pileated vs. Ivory Billed Woodpecker characteristics. After visiting the security office and getting badged we made our way to the storage area where literally thousands of bird specimens rest in row upon row of carefully catalogued floor to ceiling cabinets.

We stopped at a cabinet that seemed no different than the others. Our host opened the door, and then slid a large flat drawer out. Immediately my eyes went to the Ivory Billed Woodpecker lying next to two Pileated Woodpeckers in the lower left quadrant of the drawer.

Seeing the two species lying there side by side, I couldn’t help but notice the huge difference between the size of the bills and the size of the feet.

The Ivory Billed Woodpecker’s bill appears to be more than twice as long, in addition to its pale color:

The Ivory Billed Woodpecker’s feet were also much bigger…like something you’d expect to see on an eagle.

Another key differentiator that is clear here is the color. The Ivory Bill plumage appears black next to the lighter brown colored feathers of the Pileated Woodpecker.

This same drawer had several other interesting specimens:

Lower left quadrant: A male Ivory Billed Woodpecker specimen next to a male and female pileated (for comparison).

Upper left quadrant: a single Carolina Parakeet specimen.

The lower right quadrant of the drawer contained several passenger pigeons.

The box in the top right quadrant contains several small extinct birds – warblers I believe – which were collected by John James Audobon. The ornithologist told me that the tags on their feet were actually labeled by Audobon himself(!). Here is a close up: