Extinct Imperial Woodpecker Caught on Film
October 27, 2011

Extinct Imperial Woodpecker Caught on Film

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The imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis), thought to now be extinct, has been found on film. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology researchers acquired an 85-second video clip filmed in 1956 by the late William Rhein, according to a new research paper that was recently published. Rhein was a dentist who traveled to the bird´s habitat in Mexico´s Sierra Madre Occidental. Cornell released the film to the public on Wednesday.

The video shows a female imperial woodpecker flying from tree to tree foraging in the trunks of several large Durango Pine Trees. It is the only photographic record of the two-foot tall bird, according to the AP.

Joel Cracraft, the curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan told the AP: “It´s the last confirmed sighting of an extinct species. It´s a point in geography and time where you can document the species existed.”

Research associate Martjan Lammertink, lead author of the paper said, “It is stunning to look back through time with this film and see the magnificent imperial woodpecker moving through is old-growth forest environment. And it is heartbreaking to know that both the bird and the forest are gone.”

The imperial woodpecker ranged through the rugged mountains and old-growth trees of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. According to the press release the species largely vanished in the 1940´s and 1950´s because logging destroyed their habitat. The birds were also hunted and shot for food, used as folk medicine or just killed out of curiosity.

In recent years researchers have traveled back to the location where the bird was filmed, but found no trace of any remaining specimens. Instead they found no remaining old-growth forest and an unwelcoming environment.

Tim Gallagher, editor of Cornell´s Living Bird magazine said, “It´s a very dangerous place, in the heart of opium- and marijuana-growing country. There were a lot of people with AK-47´s.”

The paper about the film was published in this month´s edition of The Auk, the journal of the American Ornithologist´s Union.


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