Saturday, February 6, 2010

Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre

Originally posted 2/10/13 - backdated to organize posts by topic. 

From, we have this description of Tim Gallagher's upcoming book on the Imperial Woodpecker

Naturalist Tim Gallagher journeys deep into the savagely beautiful Sierra Madre, home to rich wildlife and other natural treasures—and also to Mexican drug cartels—in a dangerous quest to locate the rarest bird in the world—the possibly extinct Imperial Woodpecker, the largest of all carpinteros

The story of his search and travels should be a most interesting read! Fortunately for us, Gallagher has launched a related blog with beautiful photos and commentary that you can visit here:

Le Mégapic-Impérial et Le Mégapic à Bec d’Ivoire

Originally posted  2/26/10 - backdated to organize posts by topic.

Illustration courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections,
Cornell University Libraries.

The magnificent Imperial Woodpecker is depicted in this hand-colored lithograph from French naturalist Alfred Malherbe's four-volume work, Monographie des picidées (1859-1862).  There is another illustration and more information about the work available here at this link.

The largest woodpecker in the world, the female Imperial Woodpecker is shown in full with her tongue extended, contrasted with the male whose crest is red and black.  In the background, male and female Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are depicted in what certainly appears to be an adaptation of John James Audubon's painting of the birds in 1826.

New Study Analyzes Only Known Footage of Vanished Imperial Woodpecker

Originally posted  10/26/11 - backdated to organize posts by topic.

There is big news today as the only film ever found of an Imperial Woodpecker is released in the form of 85 seconds of stunning color movie footage!  The film provides us with a unique look back through time at a species that is presumed to be extinct. 

 Imperial Woodpecker, female
Image by William L. Rhein, courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

At two-feet tall, the magnificent Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico was the largest woodpecker in the world.  It probably became extinct in the late 20th century.  To date, there has been no known photo or film documentation available of this species in life.  But that changes today with the publication of a new paper in the October, 2011 issue of The Auk, the journal of the American Ornithologists' Union.

The paper, by lead author Martjan Lammertink along with four Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff members and two Mexican biologists, is entitled Film Documentation of the Probably Extinct Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus Imperialis).   It details the remarkable 16-mm color film of an Imperial Woodpecker shot in 1956 by William L. Rhein, a dentist and amateur ornithologist.  Rhein shot the film with a hand-held camera from the back of a mule while camping in a remote location in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Durango state, Mexico.

Here is a link where you can view the 85-second color film, download the Auk article, hear Rhein narrate scenes from his 1956 expedition, read about the March 2010 follow up expedition to the film site, and see the painted Imperial Woodpecker cover art that serves as the cover of the current edition of The Auk:

Although Rhein has been widely attributed with the last sighting record of an Imperial Woodpecker, the existence of his film was not known until recently.  In the mid-1990s, biologist M. Lammertink discovered a mention of the film at Cornell in letters that Rhein and a colleague sent to ivorybill researcher James Tanner in 1962.  He tracked Rhein down and they viewed the film together in 1997.  In 2005 Rhein's nephew, R. Thorpe, donated the film to the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.        

 Imperial Woodpecker, female
Image by William L. Rhein, courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Viewing the amazing film footage, you will see a female Imperial Woodpecker hitching up and foraging on the trunks of large Durango pines in its old-growth forest environment before launching into flight.  A March 2010 expedition to the film site gained insights on the bird's probable extinction, but turned up no evidence that Imperial Woodpeckers are still alive.  Unfortunately, the bird and its old-growth forest are gone now, making the film footage an especially precious find.

Tim Gallagher on the Imperial Woodpecker

Read a story about the majestic Imperial Woodpecker.

Tim Gallagher is editor-in-chief of Living Bird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's quarterly magazine.  He's also the author of the book "The Grail Bird: The Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" (Houghton Mifflin, July 2005).  For more info on the illustration, see the article or click here.

Imperial Woodpeckers

This rather large image befits the Imperial Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in the world.  According to Wikimedia Commons, this chromolithograph appeared in The Auk in 1898, and the artist was John Livzey Ridgway (1859-1947) an American illustrator and brother of ornithologist Robert Ridgway.  Public domain image.

Imperial Woodpecker, Close Up

Originally posted  8/9/10 - backdated to organize posts by topic.

I just came across this specimen photo, a close up of a female Imperial Woodpecker head from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and shared with us here by Dysmorodrepanis through Wikimedia Commons.  The largest of all the woodpeckers, the bird you see here is a very old specimen, but spectacular nonetheless.  How much more spectacular would it be to see it in action, live in a pine forest in Mexico today?

Here's a link to a related article from 2003 about a search for the Imperial Woodpecker by BirdLife International that's an interesting read:

Imperial Woodpecker story

Also, here is a more recent post regarding a report of an Imperial Woodpecker sighting in the Copper Canyon in Mexico:

Imperial Woodpeckers

This is an image of male and female Imperial Woodpecker specimens from the Museum Wiesbaden in Germany. The photographer was Fitz-Geller Grimm, shared with us here by Creative Commons license.


Originally posted 6/17/10 - backdated to organize posts by topic.

EXTINTOS!!! by telly gacitúa

EXTINTOS!!!, a photo by telly gacitúa on Flickr.
Sad but true, as the comments that accompany this beautiful image posted here under Creative Commons license note:

El carpintero Imperial, el zorro Guará, el Tilacino, el pájaro Dodó, el Sapo Dorado de Monteverde, el Bilby Menor, el ciervo de Schomburgk, el Alca Gigante, el Tigre de Java, el Baiji o delfín de río chino, el Barbus Microbarbis y la orquídea extinta.
Llegaron los humanos y los mataron a todos!!!!!

The Imperial Woodpecker, Fox Den, the Thylacine, Dodo bird, the Golden Toad of Monteverde, the Bilby Minor Schomburgk Deer, the Great Auk, the Tiger of Java, the Baiji or Chinese River Dolphin, the Barbus Microbarbis and orchid extinct.
humans came and killed them all !!!!!

La Tête et Le Pied du Megapicus Imperialis

Originally posted 6/13/10 - backdated to organize posts by topic.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this illustration of the head and foot of an Imperial Woodpecker, accompanied by the same for the Black Woodpecker of Europe (Dryocopus martius) for comparative purposes in the preface of Alfred Malherbe's Monographie des Picidées.  The image above is within the public domain and it appears here courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

The Imperial Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in the world, is the subject of an earlier post here at Campephilus Woodpeckers and, appropriately, the subject of the first plate within Monographie des Picidées:

While we're on the topic, recently Mark Michaels made the following post at the Ivory-bill Researchers Forum that will lead you to a rarely seen still from a video of the Imperial Woodpecker that belongs to Cornell University.  He wrote:

This recent publication from Partners in Flight includes a still from the footage of the Imperial Woodpecker on page 11. It should have some relevance for IBWO searchers. Another still appears in Snyder's Travails of Two Woodpeckers, but as far as I know this is the first time any of the images has appeared online.

Also, here is a link to the organization's website:

To my knowledge, this is the sole imagery available of the Imperial Woodpecker aside from illustrations and images of museum specimens, so it's quite a wonder!

Imperial Woodpecker - 3D View at Naturalis

Naturalis is the website of the National Museum of Natural History in the Netherlands.  At Naturalis, you can find 3D images of specimens from the Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam including an Imperial Woodpecker, a Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker and a US Ivory-billed Woodpecker .  See this one, for example:

Imperial Woodpecker Reported in Mexico

Over at the Ocellated blog, you can find a post about one of the most recent Imperial Woodpecker sighting reports, from 2005, along with some interesting discussion.

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