Conservation status

Of the 383 piciform species, a total of 15 species are classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable. An additional 28 species are classified as Near Threatened. All of the most-threatened species show downward population trends. All three species listed as Critically Endangered are large woodpeckers: the imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis), the Okinawa woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii), and the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilusprincipalis). (Classification as Critically Endangered means experts believe these species have no more than an estimated 50% chance of surviving over the next 10 years or three generations.) Indeed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the ivory-bill extinct in 1997 because the last confirmed U.S. sighting occurred almost 50 years earlier. In 1999, however, a credible report of an ivory-bill sighting in a Louisiana swamp raised hopes that this species may yet persist. A 2002 expedition to search for the species was inconclusive; no birds were spotted, but experts believe they heard the ivory-bill's distinctive "double-knock" drumming.

Though at present a comparatively small proportion of species are threatened, experts caution against complacency because, almost everywhere these birds are found, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation are occurring at a rapid rate. When forests are clear-cut for lumber, not only is habitat destroyed in the short term, but subsequent commercial reforestation and lumber management practices produce young, even-aged stands that lack the standing dead trees many species require for nest sites and to provide insect food. Meanwhile, forest fragmentation resulting from agriculture or development activities is a problem for species that require large tracts of unbroken forest. Piciform species that prefer edge habitat, however, may be increasing in numbers; data is lacking.

Habitat loss has already been identified as a factor in the declines of some toucan species—in South America, the saffron toucanet (Baillonius bailloni) is threatened both by hunting and by capture for the cage-bird trade. Forest loss in the tropics is probably a problem for many puffbird species as well, although data is limited. In Indonesia, both logging and fires threaten barbet habitat. Experts believe that the collection of specimens for museums contributed to the extinction of some species.

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