"Elusive Ivory" - Ivory-billed Woodpecker by Larry Chandler

About "Elusive Ivory" - Ivory-billed Woodpecker
original painting by wildlife artist Larry Chandler


Four years ago, my long time friend Bobby Harrison stood in my studio and proclaimed "I have decided to spend all my bird watching time and efforts looking for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker". I thought to myself "What is an Ivory-billed Woodpecker?" and tried not to act too dense about the subject. He said "I may go down to Cuba, and look for a year or so and then go to Louisiana and search". Bobby had this gleam in his eyes that I had never seen before. He had been to so many exotic areas to look for and photograph different birds from time to time. He said the Ivory-bill was the "Holy Grail" of birding.

Later, after Bobby had left my studio, I dragged out all of my field guides on birds and began looking for an Ivory-bill. Most did not even show the bird, but some mentioned it. Finally, in an old World Book Encyclopedia, I found paintings of the bird. Wow! What a magnificent bird. It measures 21 inches from tip of the bill to the tip of the tail, with a wing span of about 32 inches. This is no ordinary woodpecker! I have seen the great Pileated Woodpecker all my life in the hardwoods around my home in Alabama. It is commonly called "The Indian Hen" by most Southerners. Its almost laughing call could be heard for quite a distance. The Ivory-billed is a huge bird compared to the Pileated. It was once called the "Lord God Bird" by people like Teddy Roosevelt, because people seeing the Ivory-billed would drop to their knees exclaiming "Lord God what a bird!".

The Ivory-bill was becoming extinct even before the 1900. So, what did people do? They hunted and killed every one they could find - for feathers in women's hats and study skins for museums. Something as magnificent as this rare bird and all that was thought of was to kill them, so we would never get to see another Ivory-bill.

Time marched on and I didn't see my buddy Bobby as much for a year or so. Finally, about fourteen months ago, Bobby came to me after a weekend of searching a report in Arkansas on a sighting by naturalist Gene Sparling. When Bobby looked into my eyes and told me he had seen an Ivory-bill, I knew he had seen one. He immediately started talking about me doing a painting of the bird. I said "Bobby, do you have a photo to work from?", to which he replied, "No, but we will". He had seen the bird at close range with partner Tim Gallagher from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I then set out to do the painting, working from all the descriptions Bobby could give. Almost every artist down through time has painted the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I told Bobby, "What can I bring to the table that these other artists have not?". He said to me "Most have painted the bird sitting. Many years ago, the bird was much more tame and not so afraid of man. There have been about 17 recent sightings - all have been in flight. Why don't you do one flighting with an Arkansas swamp background?" So this was the approach I took. Doing a bird in flight is ten times harder than one sitting. I would work on the painting and quiz Bobby when he was home between searches. He would tell things like "The wings are much flatter than most woodpeckers. The flight is more like a Pintail duck."

I finished the painting and even took it to a few national wildlife art shows. I only had one or two people that even knew what the bird was. The painting sat in my studio undisturbed for months. Suddenly, one morning Bobby called me very excited. Even though the discovery was being kept a secret by many organizations, the news broke to the press. Bobby said "The Genie is out of the bottle! I'm flying to Washington, D.C. for a press release tomorrow morning". The events after that were very fast and very exciting. I received an email from Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes, Senior Graphic Designer at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, asking to get written permission to use my painting image in press releases and newspapers. This all took place within a few hours. When the news broke, the reaction from the world was astonishing. News of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker rediscovery was seen on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and every major newspaper in the world. It even made front page news in London, Madrid, Calcutta and Tokyo!

This event marks a milestone of importance in my career. I was honored Cornell thought enough of my rendition of the Ivory-bill to embrace it in such a way. I thank God for my relationship with my friend Bobby Harrison and this awesome rediscovery that has forever changed the way we look at great birds of our land. The Ivory-bill has forever touched a spot in my heart. I hope and pray to one day just get a glimpse of this unbelievable bird.

Larry Chandler, artist

Comments on Ivory-billed Woodpecker painting by noted wildlife artists

"Nice job. The descriptions I've read say that an Ivory-bill's flight is much more direct and duck-like than other woodpeckers. That painting really has that feel of forceful flight."


"Congratulations, Larry! Your efforts certainly paid off, along with those of your team mates. It is a good painting, to boot - right up your alley - and you put the bird into a believable setting. It all must be very exciting for you and your gang. Well, you deserve it. Is the bird ever seen anywhere other than Arkansas? Did anyone get a photograph of it yet? Of course with your knowledge of bird anatomy, you are very much qualified to do such a thing."


"This is one of the best paintings for a stamp print I've seen in a LONG time. The rendering of the bird is flawless and it is perfect in both its composition and design."


Comments about Ivory-billed Woodpecker painting by the Search Team

"With skill and style that surpasses that of the great John James Audubon, Larry Chandler has captured the gracefulness of flight and charisma of this spectacular species in "Elusive Ivory".

Bobby Harrison

"I really like your IBWO painting - not that I have gotten a good enough look at the bird to be an expert, but it looks very realistic to me."

David Luneau

"Larry Chandler's "Elusive Ivory" is one of my favorite paintings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It captures all the power and grace of this most iconic of birds and the mystery of the swamp."

Tim Gallagher

Comments on Ivory-billed Woodpecker painting from conservation team

"I've enjoyed your work for years, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is honored to be able to use your Ivory-bill image during this very exciting time of the rediscovery of the Ivory-bill."

L. Minde - Staff member at Cornell Lab of Ornithology

"Chandler's rendition of the Ivory-billed woodpecker will be the definitive work on this elusive bird. The bird's majesty and beauty has been translated to a stamp format with 100% success! The stamp is a must for all bird and waterfowl collectors and will mark 2005 as Year of the Ivory-billed woodpecker."

Bob Dumaine - Founder of the National Duck Stamp Collectors Society

Comments on Ivory-billed Woodpecker painting from the general public

"Love the print of the Lord God What a Bird!!"

E. Emery - Tennessee

"The ivory-billed woodpecker picture just blew me away when I was looking at the Cornell Lab website. Please let me know when I may purchase this incredible piece of art!! (I haven't even had a chance to peruse the Lab gear - my other passion is Black Labs!)"

B. Ferree - North Carolina

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Ivory-billed Woodpecker in background of 2005 Arkansas Duck Stamp

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