It was once the undisputed king of its clan, but most believe the imperial woodpecker faded unseen into the pages of history sometime in the late 20th century in the high mountains of Mexico. But now, thanks to some keen detective work, the largest woodpecker that ever lived can be seen by the world once more – and this 85-second flight through time offers us a lesson about its behavior, and ours. "It is stunning to look back through time with this film and see the magnificent imperial woodpecker moving through its old-growth forest environment,” said research associate Dr. Martjan Lammertink, lead author of a paper describing the detective work, written along with four Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff members and two Mexican biologists. "And it is heartbreaking to know that both the bird and the forest are gone." The imperial woodpecker was thought to have gone extinct without anyone ever capturing photos or film of the 2-foot-tall, flamboyantly crested bird. That was 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, is available for viewing at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/imperialfilm. In the color film, a female imperial woodpecker hitches up and forages on the trunks of large Durango pines and then launches into flight. The film was shot by William Rhein with a hand-held camera from the back of a mule while camping in a remote location in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Durango state. In March 2010, Dr. Lammertink and Dr. Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Lab launched an expedition with members of the conservation group Pronatura Noroeste to identify and survey the film site.
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