Campephilus imperialis (the imperial woodpecker) may have been the largest woodpecker that ever lived. The last documented sighting of this two-foot-tall bird happened in 1956 in the state of Durango, in the high-altitude, old-growth pine forest of the Sierra Madre in Mexico.
Pennsylvania dentist and amateur ornithologist William Rhein captured the only known footage of a living representative of this species, a female, which you can watch below. Filmed in Mexico in 1956, this eighty-five-second, 16mm, color movie was taken with a handheld camera from the back of a mule.
It’s grainy and dark and not quite up to the quality of today’s amateur photographers. Nonetheless, this little bit of what-once-was is guaranteed to send chills down your spine, as you realize you’re watching a bird that is likely the last of her kind.
The story of how the Cornell Lab of Ornithology got the footage is an adventure in itself. Watch the film, then read the full tale. It’s not often we get to see a living creature — more than fifty years extinct — go about her daily life, oblivious of the great loss she will come to represent for us all.