World's only video of extinct giant woodpecker discovered
Newly discovered video, restored by Cornell University, offers a fleeting glimpse of a stunning bird that was once widespread in the old pine forests of Mexico.
Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 03:21 AM
A newly discovered video (above) of the now-extinct imperial woodpecker, filmed in 1956, may be the only chance you'll have to see one of these stunning birds alive. It also represents the only known video of the species.
The imperial woodpecker was the world's largest woodpecker, measuring about 22-24 inches long. Males of the species were recognizable for their captivating red-sided crests, while females showcased a recurved black crest with a characteristic "flip" at the tip. They were similar in appearance to the closely related ivory-billed woodpecker, a species that is also now believed extinct.
The birds were once widespread throughout their native range in Mexico until the 1950s, when their numbers crashed following the rapid deforestation of the old-growth pine forest habitat they called home. They were also hunted for use in folk medicine, and because nestlings were considered a delicacy by the native Tarahumara people. As the species neared extinction, there were even reports that birds were shot and killed, just so curious people could get a closer look.
The last confirmed sighting of the woodpecker occurred in 1956 — the same year this video was filmed. Unconfirmed sightings of the bird persisted into the 1990s, and many ornithologists now acknowledge that a handful of birds may have survived into the latter part of the 20th century. Continued survival, however, is highly unlikely given the lack of confirmed sightings in more than 50 years, the petering off of unconfirmed sightings, and the near-total destruction of the bird's native habitat.
The IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature, still lists the species as "critically endangered (possibly extinct)", but few ornithologists hold out much hope.
Cornell University researchers have recently restored the newly discovered video and reduced camera shake, offering a clearer view of what was likely one of the last of its kind. You can view those revisions below.