(Photo by Tim Gallagher)
Jose Perez is an old vaquero I met during my travels through the Sierra Madre. As a young man in the 1940s and '50s, he would spend weeks riding horseback through the high country. Now in his 90s, he remembered the Imperial Woodpecker well, and described it perfectly even before I showed him my stack of illustrations depicting the woodpeckers of northern Mexico. When I asked him how the female pitoreal differed from a male, he laughed and told me her crest was negro (black), then he put his arm above his head and bent it to illustrate how much it curved forward.
I spoke with him for a long time, trying to glean as much information as he could remember about this spectacular bird. We really know so little about the Imperial Woodpecker. To me, it's vitally important to find people like Jose who were eyewitnesses to this bird's existence and to record their memories. If this species is truly extinct, or beyond saving, they might be our only living connection to one of the most remarkable birds that ever lived.