Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)

Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis)

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Taxonomy

French: Pic impérial German: Kaiserspecht Spanish: Picamaderos imperial
Taxonomy:

Picus imperialis

Gould

, 1832,

“California” = Jalisco, Mexico

.

Closely related to C. principalis. Monotypic.

Distribution:

W Mexico in Sierra Madre Occidental, from W Sonora and Chihuahua S to Jalisco and Michoacán (probably extinct).

Descriptive notes

c. 56–60 cm. World’s largest woodpecker; huge, with pointed crest. Male has side of crown back to underside of crest and nape red, feathers with white bases; rest of head and neck, also upperparts, underparts and tail, black, with blue gloss on head, neck and upperparts, narrow white line down each side of mantle; upperwing black, coverts glossed blue, inner primaries tipped white, secondaries and tertials all white apart from black bases; underwing as above, but lesser and median coverts and primary coverts also white, with a few black spots or bars; very long bill chisel-tipped, culmen slightly curved, broad across nostrils, ivory-white to ivory-yellow; iris pale yellow; legs grey. Distinguished from C. principalis by larger size, no white stripes on neck. Female as male, but no red on head, even longer crest curving strongly upwards and forwards. Juvenile duller, browner, than adult, unglossed, with white tips to all flight-feathers, somewhat less white in secondaries, eyes greyish, both sexes initially without red on head and with very long crest, red soon appearing on rear of male’s head.

Drawing by Mark Hulme
Descriptive notes:

c. 56–60 cm. World’s largest woodpecker; huge, with pointed crest. Male has side of crown back to underside of crest and nape red, feathers with white bases; rest of head and neck, also upperparts, underparts and tail, black, with blue gloss on head, neck and upperparts, narrow white line down each side of mantle; upperwing black, coverts glossed blue, inner primaries tipped white, secondaries and tertials all white apart from black bases; underwing as above, but lesser and median coverts and primary coverts also white, with a few black spots or bars; very long bill chisel-tipped, culmen slightly curved, broad across nostrils, ivory-white to ivory-yellow; iris pale yellow; legs grey. Distinguished from C. principalis by larger size, no white stripes on neck. Female as male, but no red on head, even longer crest curving strongly upwards and forwards. Juvenile duller, browner, than adult, unglossed, with white tips to all flight-feathers, somewhat less white in secondaries, eyes greyish, both sexes initially without red on head and with very long crest, red soon appearing on rear of male’s head.

Drawing by Mark Hulme
Descriptive notes:

c. 56–60 cm. World’s largest woodpecker; huge, with pointed crest. Male has side of crown back to underside of crest and nape red, feathers with white bases; rest of head and neck, also upperparts, underparts and tail, black, with blue gloss on head, neck and upperparts, narrow white line down each side of mantle; upperwing black, coverts glossed blue, inner primaries tipped white, secondaries and tertials all white apart from black bases; underwing as above, but lesser and median coverts and primary coverts also white, with a few black spots or bars; very long bill chisel-tipped, culmen slightly curved, broad across nostrils, ivory-white to ivory-yellow; iris pale yellow; legs grey. Distinguished from C. principalis by larger size, no white stripes on neck. Female as male, but no red on head, even longer crest curving strongly upwards and forwards. Juvenile duller, browner, than adult, unglossed, with white tips to all flight-feathers, somewhat less white in secondaries, eyes greyish, both sexes initially without red on head and with very long crest, red soon appearing on rear of male’s head.

Voice

Calls sounding like toy trumpet.

Habitat

Found in oak-pine (Quercus-Pinus) forest belt of mountains, in extensive park-like stands of large pines (Pinus) containing many dead trees. Recorded from 1670 m up to 3050 m, but mostly above 1900 m.

Food and feeding

Presumably large beetle larvae (Cerambycidae). In pairs and in family groups of 3–4 birds, occasionally larger groups. Main foraging technique is scaling bark from dead trees, and excavating deeply; same tree sometimes revisited over prolonged period of time. Occasional clinging upside-down, and foraging on underside of branches.

Breeding

Laying Feb–Jun. Nest-hole excavated high up in trunk of dead tree. Clutch generally 2 eggs (1–4). No other relevant information. Groups seem to roost in neighbouring holes. Apparent nest competitors are large parrots.

Movements

Resident; probably rather nomadic within habitat.

Status and conservation

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (POSSIBLY EXTINCT). CITES I. Restricted-range species: present in Sierra Madre Occidental and Trans-Mexican Range EBA. Probably extinct. No confirmed reports since 1956, when it was filmed in the state of Durango#R. A number of claimed sightings include several post-1965 reports; in particular, a solitary female alleged to have been seen in N Sonora in 1993, a pair in C Durango in same year, and a single male c. 20 km from latter site two years later#R. Were any still left, however, remaining habitat is so fragmented that they would have little chance of continued survival; none seen during a year-long survey of pine forests of NW Mexico in 1994 and 1995. Searches following other sporadic reports similarly fruitless. None detected in 2010 during a targeted search in the region of the 1956 encounter; interviews with locals suggested that the species disappeared a few years after the sighting#R. Seems never to have been particularly common, with estimated maximum population of no more than c. 8000 individuals; indiscriminate shooting and habitat destruction over many decades have led to its almost certain recent extermination. A single pair would probably need an area of at least 25 km² in order to forage and to breed successfully; moreover, since food (large larvae) probably available only for restricted periods, and at different times in different parts of forest, it is likely that small groups need to wander widely to be able to exploit these resources; a group of c. 8 birds could require at least 98 km² of continuous old-growth forest, and such extensive stands no longer exist. In fact, logging and extraction of large, dead trees for pulp had affected >99% of its range by 1995#R, and there is now no continuous area of old-growth forest remaining anywhere in the Sierra Madre Occidental that is large enough to support a single breeding pair of this picid. Centuries of hunting, for sport and because parts of this bird were thought to have useful medicinal properties, followed by the complete degradation and destruction of the habitat, have ensured that the species’ dwindling numbers continued to fall to unsustainable levels. It has recently emerged that logging employees encouraged local people to poison any remaining woodpeckers#R. No reserve has ever been established with the aim of protecting this unique woodpecker, and it is now too late.

Recommended citation

Winkler, H., Christie, D.A. & Sharpe, C.J. (2017). Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/56301 on 17 December 2017).