Tuesday, January 22, 2013

John Gould and the Imperial Woodpecker

I love this sketch of an Imperial Woodpecker, which appears at the bottom of a letter an ornithologist wrote to a friend in 1832. Although the petroglyph image I posted on this blog a few days ago was the earliest known depiction of the bird, the sketch above was drawn by famed English ornithologist and artist John Gould, the man who actually first scientifically described this species, a "bird remarkable for its extraordinary size," and gave it the regal appellation of Imperial Woodpecker, Picus imperialis—which was later changed to Campephilus imperialis. George Robert Gray, another 19th-century English ornithologist, established the genus Campephilus, which means "lover of grubs," the primary diet of these birds. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is the only member of this genus in the United States and is the closest relative of the Imperial Woodpecker.

Gould brought some specimens of the Imperial Woodpecker to a meeting of the Zoological Society of London in the summer of 1832. He was a little vague about exactly where they were collected: somewhere in "that little explored district of California which borders Mexico." Actually, the skins were collected by a mining engineer named Floresi in the Mexican state of Jalisco, quite a long way from  California.

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