Center for Biological Diversity

Okinawa Woodpecker
Okinawa Rail

Okinawa woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii)

The Okinawa Woodpecker is known locally as the “noguchigera.” A dark brown bird with red-tipped feathers and white spots on its wings, it’s approximately 10 inches tall. It lives only in Yanbaru, a small area of forested woodlands in the northern mountainous region of the island of Okinawa, Japan. Yanbaru is a unique ecological area that supports a number of specialized native animals and plants. The Okinawa Woodpecker, an ecological and cultural icon, is the prefectural bird of Okinawa and has been declared a "national natural monument" and "Special Bird for Protection" by the Japanese government.

The World Conservation Union and Japan’s Ministry of Environment designated the woodpecker a “critically endangered” species because only a single, small declining population remains. The International Council for Bird Preservation petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the woodpecker in 1980.

This woodpecker is on the brink of extinction due to ongoing destruction of its forest habitat in Okinawa’s northern jungles. A significant amount of prime remaining woodpecker habitat is threatened by a joint U.S. and Japanese military proposal to construct additional helicopter training landing areas in Yanbaru, including roads and other related infrastructure.

The Okinawa woodpecker is already threatened by road construction, clearcutting, agriculture, construction and other activities that destroy and fragment the woodpecker’s forest habitat. Its limited range and extremely small population also make it highly vulnerable to extinction from disease and natural disasters such as typhoons. There is great danger that the woodpecker population will be fragmented into scattered tiny colonies and isolated pairs.

A significant amount of the remaining habitat for the species is found on lands controlled by the U.S. Marine Corps Northern Training Area. This habitat, which until now has remained relatively intact, is threatened by plans to construct new helicopter landing pads and associated infrastructure.

Okinawa Woodpecker stamps

Center Actions to Protect the Okinawa Woodpecker:

In November 2006 the Center filed suit against the Service seeking ESA protection for 57 birds from around the world, including the Okinawa Woodpecker.

The Center is working to protect the globally ecologically significant Yanbaru forest on Okinawa from a U.S. military proposal to cut new helicopter landing pads and roads into the forest, threatening habitat for the Okinawa Woodpecker.

In February 2006 the Center filed notice of intent to sue the Service for failing to provide ESA protection for the Okinawa Woodpecker and 55 other imperiled foreign candidate bird species.

Read the Center’s January 2006 comment letter on the Service’s petition findings.

In May 2004 the Service announced that the Okinawa Woodpecker continues to warrant ESA listing.

In May 2004 the Center obtained a legal settlement from the Service to act on listing petitions for 73 of the world’s rarest bird species, including the woodpecker.

In May 2003 the Center filed suit to compel the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Okinawa Woodpecker under the Endangered Species Act.

Okinawa Rail (Gallirallus okinawae)

The Okinawa Rail is a nearly flightless, short-tailed bird endemic to Okinawa, Japan, that also occurs only in the Yanbaru forest. The Okinawa Rail has a single, very small declining population with a very small range and is on the verge of extinction. BirdLife International estimates that only 1,200-1,680 Okinawa Rails remain. The species is threatened by forest loss and fragmentation due to logging, dam construction and associated road-building, disease and parasites, agricultural development, and infrastructure associated with U.S. activities.

Okinawa Rail sign in Yanbaru Forest