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28 Oct 2011: Film of Extinct Woodpecker
Unearthed by Cornell Researchers

U.S. scientists searching for the rare imperial woodpecker, once considered the world’s largest woodpecker species but now thought to be extinct, have unearthed an 85-second film of the bird in its long-vanished habitat. It is the only known footage of the bird, which was two feet high and the closest relative of the ivory-billed woodpecker, which is also believed to be extinct. The 16mm color film — shot in 1956 by Pennsylvania dentist and amateur ornithologist William Rhein in Durango, Mexico’s old-growth pine forest — captures an adult female as she quickly scales the trunk of a pine tree, takes four pecks at the tree, and then launches into flight. The film was discovered by Martjan Lammertink, a researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who has authored a new paper in the journal The Auk about a 2010 expedition to the same region of Durango in search of the imperial woodpecker. Scientists say the bird, which lived in the high mountains of the Sierre Madre Occidental, likely went extinct some time in the late 20th century after decades of logging cleared its old-growth pine habitat. Indeed, Lammertink’s research team found no evidence of the bird. “It is stunning to look back through time with this film and see the magnificent imperial woodpecker moving through its old-growth forest environment,” Lammertink said. “And it is heartbreaking to know that both the bird and the forest are gone.”
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