Imperial Woodpecker Campephilus imperialis


Justification of Red List Category
This species has not been recorded with certainty since 1956, and extensive habitat destruction and fragmentation combined with hunting may well have driven the species to extinction. Extensive and prolonged searches within its former range (often following up on anecdotal reports) have failed to confirm the persistence of any individuals. Thorough mapping and analysis of remaining habitat has been conducted and the results do not provide much hope that any population has been able to survive. However, it cannot yet be presumed to be Extinct as the degree to which individuals can utilise sub-optimal regenerating forest is unknown, and it remains possible that some individuals survive. Any remaining population is likely to be tiny, and for these reasons it is treated as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).

Population justification
Any remaining population is assumed to be tiny (numbering fewer than 50 individuals and mature individuals) based on the lack of confirmed records since 1956; analyses of remaining habitat indicate that no tracts remain which are large enough to support the species.

Distribution and population

Campephilus imperialis was formerly distributed throughout the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico in Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Nayarit, Zacatecas (possibly) and north Jalisco with more isolated populations in west Jalisco and Michoacán. It was not historically a rare species within suitable habitat, but the total population probably never numbered more than 8,000 individuals (Lammertink et al. 1996). The last confirmed record was from Durango in 1956 but there have been convincing local reports of sightings after 1965 (Lammertink et al. 1996, Otto 2003). The most recent are of a pair in central Durango in 1993, a single male c. 20 km from this site in 1995, and a single female in north Sonora in 1993 (Lammertink et al. 1996). A reported sighting in north-central Durango in 1996 was followed up, but no birds were located (Otto 2003), and a bird was reported in November 2005 in the Barrancas-Divisadero region of Barranca del Cobre, Chihuahua, but subsequent searches have found neither Imperial Woodpecker, nor appropriate habitat or recent local knowledge of the species, within a 50 km radius of the locality (G. R. Homel in litt. 2005). There are now no unsurveyed old-growth remnants that are large enough for a breeding territory (M. Lammertink in litt. 2007). In March 2010, the location of the 1956 record in Durango was checked, but no evidence of the species was found, and interviews suggest that the species disappeared from the area in 1956-1960 (M. Lammertink in litt. 2010). In 2012 photographs, taken several years earlier, emerged of a specimen that was shot approximately 40 years ago in the Sierra de Pueblo Nuevo, Durango (M. Quiñones in litt. 2012). Even if a few individuals persist, extensive habitat modification and continued hunting pressure from rural people has made extinction virtually inevitable (Lammertink et al. 1996, M. Lammertink in litt. 2012).


It requires extensive areas (26 km2 per pair) of continuous open pine forest on relatively flat plateaus with large numbers of snags for foraging and nesting (Tanner 1964, Lammertink et al. 1996). Most records are from elevations of 1,920-3,050 m, but there are records as low as 1,675 m. There are many reports of more than four individuals, and this grouping behaviour may be related to its foraging specialisation. The main food source, beetle larvae in snags, is probably patchily distributed and peaks within a short period of time. Consequently, feeding-sites are probably best exploited by nomadic groups. If it operated in groups of seven or eight individuals, the minimum area of old-growth forest for a group would have been 98 km2. Breeding has been recorded between February and June, and probably 1-4 eggs are laid (Lammertink et al. 1996).


The chief threats are the combined and interconnected impacts of hunting and habitat loss. It has been hunted for fun, food and supposed medicinal purposes over a long period of time, and feathers and bills were reportedly used in rituals by Tepheuana and Huichol tribes in the south of Durango (M. Quiñones in litt. 2012). The expansion of lumber operations into remote parts of the sierra opened up areas for settlement (and hunters) in the early 1950s. Although over-hunting probably precipitated the initial decline, this was compounded by the widespread removal of dead pines for pulp and mature pines for timber. By 1996, only 22 km2 of suitable breeding habitat remained and even the area from which the pair were reported in 1993 had been logged (Lammertink et al. 1996). The species's social nature made it particularly susceptible to both types of threat; it frequently occurred in groups of four to eight (sometimes up to 20) individuals and therefore required large tracts of forest and was easily exploited by hunters (Mendenhall 2005). Interviews indicate that logging interests encouraged persecution of the species, including through the poisoning of foraging trees (Lammertink et al. 2011). No reserves were established to conserve the species (Winkler et al. 2015).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. A number of specific searches have been undertaken since the 1960s, including an extensive 11 month search in 1994-1995 (Lammertink et al. 1996). There are no confirmed records from protected areas. Searches are ongoing and anecdotal reports are regularly pursued. The species's range and potential habitat fragments have been comprehensively mapped, and identified areas thoroughly explored.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Prepare to follow-up any further local reports. Continue searching areas of old-growth forest in the former range, especially in small patches now surrounded by managed forest. The forest above the abandoned farm of Bajio de Don Victor, in Taxicaringa, and a patch of remnant forest to the north-west of Babicora, in Chihuahua, have been identified as priority sites for future searches (M. Lammertink in litt. 2010).


56-60 cm. Enormous, stunning black-and-white woodpecker. Mostly black with large white wing-patch and thin white braces on mantle. Huge ivory bill. Male has red crest (centred black) and nape. Female lacks red but has long, curling black crest. Juvenile browner. Similar spp. Much larger than any other sympatric woodpecker, and the only woodpecker in the area with solid black underparts. Voice Reportedly toy-trumpet like calls.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Capper, D., Isherwood, I., Mahood, S., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Ashpole, J

Lammertink, M. & Quiñones, M.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2017) Species factsheet: Campephilus imperialis. Downloaded from on 23/08/2017. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2017) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 23/08/2017.