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Watch the only known footage of vanished woodpecker

Interested in seeing a bird you’ll never ever see in real life? Well, now’s your chance.

This week the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has released video from 1956 of the only known images of a now-extinct bird. The imperial woodpecker, once the world’s largest woodpecker at a whopping two feet tall, used to inhabit the forests of Mexico.

The digitally-restored footage, which you can see below, captures the imperial woodpecker on film foraging for insects. From the images, you can’t really get a good idea of the size, but the bird is very large.

The imperial woodpecker is now widely believed to have gone the way of the dodo because of the destruction of its habitat by the logging industry. It’s a sad and enlightening example of how man’s actions have negative consequences on nature, something I’ve covered before in this post on the Red Kite.

For decades, most people thought the woodpecker had vanished from earth without leaving any photographic evidence until 1992 when reference to the 1956 film was rediscovered in Cornell’s archives. Martjan Lammertink, the person who found the reference, tracked down Dr. William L. Rhein who shot the film. After Dr. Rhein died in 1999, it was given to his nephew who finally gave it to Cornell in 2005. Since then, it’s been studied and restored.

The imperial woodpecker is the closest relative to the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker that may or may not exist.

Cornell has an amazing story of about the imperial woodpecker you can read here. Now, here’s the amazing footage.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. What a privilege to see a film segment of one of God’s rare creatures! Thank you so much to all who made this viewing possible for us.

  2. would love to down load the futiageof the imperial woodpeker.

  3. Very nice, glad I stopped by! Keep up the good work!
    Chimes and Birds

  4. Hi Timothy, I feel Lucky to have seen these birds! I have these Ivory Woodpeckers in my yard. I have placed a photo on your facebook. Yes they are very large & two feet high. Just the other day, I saw two of them. They also live behind my dad house here in Sarastoa Fl. I will try to get better photos next time. They never seem to stay in one spot.Thanks Laura

  5. Hi Laura. If you really have seen an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, that’s a huge deal and there is actually a $10,000 reward to anyone who leads researchers to a nesting area. It’s very possible you’ve seen a Pileated Woodpecker though because they look very similar. Check out this comparison between the two types of woodpeckers. You also likely did not see the Imperial Woodpecker as no one has seen any since 1956 and they are only endemic to a certain part of Mexico. Thanks for sharing the pictures of the Pileated Woodpecker though!

  6. That must have been so exciting to see them in the wild and get a chance to film them. Just watching the footage made my day. You really could see why they were called Imperial…looked like they had a big crown flopping around on their heads. Magnificent birds!

  7. I agree. I really wish I would have been able to see these brilliant birds. The footage offers a great glimpse into the past and I’m happy there was at least some footage of the birds before they disappeared.

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