Rarity of Brazilian Bamboo: Kaempfer's Woodpecker

Kaempfer's Woodpecker by Ciro Albano


Once feared extinct, the Kaempfer’s Woodpecker was rediscovered in 2006, 80 years after its initial discovery. Long considered a subspecies of the Rufous-headed Woodpecker, the Kaempfer’s was recognized as a distinct species in 2003 based on differences in habitat, size, and plumage, combined with a large distance between the species’ ranges. (Read about another “rediscovered” species that ABC is working to protect, the Palkachupa Cotinga.)


Kaempfer’s Woodpecker is strongly associated with Gadua bamboo and specializes in feeding on ants found inside the bamboo canes. Students at Brazil’s University of Tocatins have been studying this species for several years, increasing knowledge of its range, which is vast but increasingly fragmented by agricultural activities, infrastructure development, and land-clearing for cattle ranching.


This woodpecker does not occur in any protected areas, and there appears to be no clear stronghold site for the species, which puts it at even greater risk of extinction. ABC is working with FAPTO (Fundação de Apoio Científico e Tecnológico do Tocantins) at the University of Tocatins to educate landowners about Kaempfer's Woodpecker and to create private protected reserves for this striking species.


“Trying to find this species requires long drives to remaining forest patches,” says Bennett Hennessey, Brazil Program Coordinator at ABC. “You search within a small bit of forest for a kiddy-pool-sized spot of Gadua bamboo that might be able to maintain a Kaempfer’s Woodpecker.”


Because of the rarity of the species, such searches are not easy. On one visit, Bennett and colleagues from the University of Tocatins spent a day visiting more than seven potential sites but found no woodpeckers. Finally, Bennett says, “We were lucky to find a single bird revisiting drilled holes in the bamboo for its ant food.”


See Kaempfer’s Woodpecker in action in this video by ABC friend Ciro Albano.



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