Imperial Woodpecker

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Imperial Woodpecker

Campephilus imperialis

ListedJune 2, 1970
DescriptionA very large woodpecker.
HabitatSubtropical, montane, open pine-dominated forest.
ReproductionLays eggs in an excavated tree-cavity.
ThreatsHabitat loss and hunting.


The imperial woodpecker, if it still exists, is the largest woodpecker in the world. It reaches a length of up to 22 in (57 cm) and has a black and white body. The male has a bright red crest, while the female has a black crest that curls forward. Both sexes have yellow eyes and a strong, heavy, chisel-like bill, used to strip bark from dead trees and to dig in rotten wood while feeding and excavating cavities.


The imperial woodpecker excavates rotting tree-wood to feed on beetle grubs and other insects. It roosts and nests in cavities of large, heart-rotted pine trees. Both sexes share in incubating the eggs and raising the young.


The habitat of the imperial woodpecker is mature, montane, open forest of pine and oak trees, at an altitude above 6,500 ft (2,000 m) in the northern part of its range, and above 8,200 ft (2,500 m) in the southern part.


The range of the imperial woodpecker is the Sierra Madre Occidental range of mountains, extending from northwest Chihuahua to Michoacan states in northwestern Mexico.


The imperial woodpecker requires a large territory, about 20 sq mi (25 sq km), and was probably never common. However, it did have an extensive range in the Sierra Madre Occidental. The causes of the precipitous decline of this species are interrelated. Its forest habitat has been extensively logged. Even selective logging was unfavorable to this woodpecker, which requires large, old, heart-rotted trees for feeding and excavating its roosting and nesting cavities. In addition, logging roads opened up the forest to hunters, who killed the imperial woodpecker as food. Since the 1950s, only sporadic sightings of this woodpecker have been reported in its former highland range in northwestern Mexico. The last confirmed sighting was in 1958, although there have been unconfirmed reports of sightings since then. The continued existence of this critically endangered species is uncertain.

Conservation and Recovery

Surveys are needed to confirm whether the imperial woodpecker still survives. There are three general areas that appear most likely to harbor the species: (1) the area around the Sonora-Chihuahua border; (2) the main part of the Sierra Madre Occidental in northern Durango, north and west of Santiago Papasquiaro; and (3) the southern part of the Sierra de los Huicholes, north of the Rio Grande de Santiago in northern Jalisco. If this rare woodpecker still survives, its remaining habitat must be rigorously protected, and any hunting strictly prohibited.


Instituto Nacional de Ecología
Av. Revolución, 1425
Col. Campestre, C.P. 01040, Mexico, D.F.


Nilsson, G. March 1983. The Endangered Species Handbook. Animal Welfare Institute, Washington, D.C.

Short, Lester. 1982. Woodpeckers of the World. Delaware Museum of Natural History, Monogr. Ser. 4.

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Imperial Woodpecker

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