Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Study analyzes only known footage of the largest woodpecker that ever lived

Date:
October 31, 2011
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
Most believe the imperial woodpecker faded unseen into history in the late 20th century in the high mountains of Mexico. But now the largest woodpecker that ever lived can be seen once more in an 85-second flight that offers us a lesson its behavior, and ours.

The imperial woodpecker perched on a tree.
Credit: William L. Rhein

The imperial woodpecker -- the largest woodpecker that ever lived --probably went extinct in the late 20th century in the high mountains of Mexico, without anyone ever capturing photos or film of the 2-foot-tall, flamboyantly crested bird. Or so scientists thought -- until a biologist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tracked down a 16-mm film shot in 1956 by a dentist from Pennsylvania.

The footage, which captures the last confirmed sighting of an imperial woodpecker in the wild, has now been restored and used to learn more about the species' behavior and its habitat -- determined by tracking down the exact filming location during a 2010 expedition.

The research appears in the October issue of The Auk, the scientific journal of the American Ornithologists' Union, and the cover features a painting of the woodpecker by graduate student Evaristo Hernández-Fernández, a Bartels Science Illustration intern.

"It is stunning to look back through time with this film and see the magnificent imperial woodpecker moving through its old-growth forest environment, and it is heartbreaking to know that both the bird and the forest are gone," said research associate Martjan Lammertink, lead author of the paper along with four Cornell lab staff members and two Mexican biologists.

In the 85-second color film, which is available for viewing online (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/imperial), a female imperial woodpecker hitches up, forages on the trunks of large Durango pines and then launches into flight.

The film was shot by dentist William Rhein, who filmed the bird with a hand-held movie camera from the back of a mule while camping in a remote location in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Durango state. In a 1997 interview with Lammertink, Rhein, who died in 1999, commented that the woodpecker was "like a great big turkey flying in front of me."

In March 2010, Lammertink and Tim Gallagher of the Cornell lab launched an expedition with members of the conservation group Pronatura Noroeste to identify and survey the film site. The expedition turned up no evidence that imperial woodpeckers are still alive. Only residents in their late 60s or older remembered the woodpecker, and no one reported seeing any of the birds after the 1950s.

The entire range of the imperial woodpecker lay in the high country of the Sierra Madre Occidental -- a rugged mountain range stretching some 900 miles south from the U.S.-Mexico border -- and the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico. The species largely vanished in the late 1940s and 1950s as logging destroyed their old-growth pine forest habitat. Imperial woodpeckers were also frequently shot for food, for use in folk remedies or out of curiosity.

The imperial woodpecker was the closest relative of the ivory-billed woodpecker, which suffered a similar decline from habitat loss in the southeastern United States and Cuba. A 2005 study by the Cornell lab reported the rediscovery of an ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas, but subsequent regionwide surveys did not find evidence of a surviving population.

Other authors of the article are Tim Gallagher, Ken Rosenberg, John Fitzpatrick and Eric Liner of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Jorge Rojas-Tomé of Organización Vida Silvestre and Patricia Escalante of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Study analyzes only known footage of the largest woodpecker that ever lived." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111026122414.htm>.
Cornell University. (2011, October 31). Study analyzes only known footage of the largest woodpecker that ever lived. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111026122414.htm
Cornell University. "Study analyzes only known footage of the largest woodpecker that ever lived." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111026122414.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Cadaver Dogs Aid Search for More Victims of Suspected Indiana Serial Killer

Cadaver Dogs Aid Search for More Victims of Suspected Indiana Serial Killer

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 21, 2014) — Police in Gary, Indiana are using cadaver dogs to search for more victims after a suspected serial killer confessed to killing at least seven women. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Unveiled to the Public

White Lion Cubs Unveiled to the Public

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) — Visitors to Belgrade zoo meet a pair of three-week-old lion cubs for the first time. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) — Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins