Imperial Woodpecker

The definitive website on wildbirds & nature

Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.


Back TOC Forward

[Imperial Woodpecker.]

[Campephilus imperialis.]

(Not figured.)

The following note, which I have received from Mr. TOWNSEND, refers to this splendid Woodpecker. "On the 14th of August, 1834, I saw several specimens of a large black Woodpecker, about the size of Picus principalis. A broad band of white appeared to extend transversely across the wings and back. It inhabited the tall pine trees, and was very shy. The note was almost exactly that of the Red-headed Woodpecker, so much so that at first Mr. NUTTALL and myself were both deceived by it. I lingered behind the party, which at that time was travelling rapidly, and at last got a shot at one of them with slugs, my large shot having been entirely expended. The bird fell wounded into a thicket at a considerable distance. I searched for an hour, without finding it, and was at last compelled to relinquish it and follow the party, which had been leaving me at a rapid trot, to find my way as I best could, and keep out of the reach of Indians, who were dogging us continually. Who can describe the chagrin and positive misery of a poor fellow in my then situation!

"The only account of this species that I have met with is the following, extracted from the "Proceedings of the Committee of Science and Correspondence of the Zoological Society of London," Part II. 1832, p. 140.--"Specimens were exhibited of a species of Woodpecker, hitherto undescribed, which has recently been obtained by Mr. GOULD from that little explored district of California, which borders the territory of Mexico. The exhibition was accompanied by a communication from Mr. GOULD, in which, after some general remarks on the Picidae, and their geographical distribution, he referred to the species before the Committee as possessing the characters of the genus Picus in their most marked development, together with the greatest size hitherto observed in that group. In this respect it as far exceeds the Ivory-billed Woodpecker of the United States, Picus principalis, as the latter does the Picus martius of Europe. Mr. GOULD described it as the

"Picus imperialis. Mas. Pie. ater, virescenti-splendens; crista elongate occipitali coccinea; macula triangulari interseapulari, remigibus secundariis, primariarumque (praeter terium quatuorve exteriorum) rachibus intermis albis; rostro eburneo.

"Foem. Paullo minor; crista occipitali cum corpore concolore.

"Longitudo manis, 2 ped.; alae (clausae), 1 ped.; caudae, 10 unc.; tarsi, vix 2 unc.; digiti externi portici, eadem ac tarsi, ungues validissimi, arcuati; rostrum exacte cuneiforme, a rictu ad apice 4 unc. long., ad basin 1 unc. latum.

"This species is readily distinguishable from the Pic. principalis by its much larger size; by the length of its occipital crest, the pendent silky feathers of which measure nearly four inches; by the absence of the white stripe which ornaments the neck of that bird, and by the bristles which cover its nostrils being black, whereas those of the Pic. principalis are white."

A figure of this species will be given at the end of the work, if a specimen can be procured.

PICUS IMPERIALIS, Gould, Proceed. of Com. Sc. and Corresp. of Zool. Soc. of Lond., part ii. p. 140.

IMPERIAL WOODPECKER, Picus imperialis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. v. P. 313.

Glossy greenish-black; the elongated occipital crest scarlet; a triangular spot on the fore part of the back; the secondary quills, and the inner webs of most of the primaries, white; bill yellowish-white. Female similar, but without red on the head.

Male, 24, wing, 12.

Rocky Mountains and North California.

Back TOC Forward

Save Our Forests