Bird Tales – THE BOBOLINKS HAVE A TEA PARTY

(I posted this yesterday on the Birds of the Bible For Kids blog and thought you might enjoy it. Besides, I have been dealing with a medical issue for two weeks and am on antibiotics. My energy level is low, so this helps not having to write another blog today. Please keep me in your prayers as I have a follow-up Dr. visit Monday.)

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) by J Fenton

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) by J Fenton

THE BOBOLINKS HAVE A TEA PARTY

Who Should Arrive But the Fairies

Who Should Arrive But the Fairies

“The other day,” commenced daddy, “the bobolinks had an afternoon tea.

“The tea party was given for the meadow larks. The bobolinks are great friends of the meadow larks and they wanted to be the first this season to entertain them. Besides, most of the bobolinks had new summer homes and their colony was near a beautiful stream.

“You know the bobolinks always build their homes in the meadows—but they build very near a stream and their homes are always deep down in the long grass.

“They had all come to live in Waving Grassland for the summer—that is, all the bobolinks who always moved about together in the summer and winter—and many of their friends, the meadow larks, were on hand to greet them. A number of others were going to arrive in a few days—before the tea party.

“Now Waving Grassland was very beautiful country. The meadows were very large and the grass was so beautiful and so long that it always waved in the soft breezes, so that the bobolinks named their new summer place Waving Grassland.

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) 2 by Kent Nickell

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) 2 by Kent Nickell

“And so the bobolinks made all their preparations for the tea party. The guests arrived dressed up in their best new summer plumage. The meadow larks came first, as they were the guests of honor.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) by Michael Woodruff

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) by Michael Woodruff

“The red-breasted grosbeak family were all there looking too lovely for words. And the bluejays,

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) at Bok Tower By Dan'sPix

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) at Bok Tower By Dan’sPix

downy woodpeckers,

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

the orioles,

Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) by Kent Nickell

Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) by Kent Nickell

the thrush family,

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) by Margaret Sloan

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) by Margaret Sloan

the chipping sparrows,

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) by Quy Tran

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) by Quy Tran

the robins,

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) eating by Jim Fenton

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) eating by Jim Fenton

the indigo birds—

PAS-Card Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) by Raymond Barlow

and even the shy vireos ventured forth.

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) by Dario Sanches

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) by Dario Sanches

Of course, usually they hate parties, but they loved the stream nearby and the beautiful country the bobolinks were living in, and they thought at least once a year they ought to be a little bit sociable and friendly with their neighbors.

“After they had all chatted together—to us it would have sounded more like chirping—the bobolinks began to serve tea.

“They had spring water for their tea—the water from the cool stream which had a deep spring within it. And this tea they served in little moss-covered stones. That gave it the most delicious flavor, and all the birds asked the bobolinks where they had found such good tea. You know in birdland they don’t ask each other where anything is bought, but where it is found! And the bobolinks told their secret.

A resin statue of a fairy ©WikiC

A resin statue of a fairy ©WikiC

“But as they were drinking cup after cup—or stoneful after stoneful—of tea, who should arrive but all the fairies!

“The birds greeted the fairies with their best songs—or their way of saying ‘We’re so glad to see you’—and the bobolinks trilled with joy because they had arranged this lovely surprise for their guests.”

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Lee’s Addition:

In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘Everyone will invite his neighbor Under his vine and under his fig tree.’ ” (Zechariah 3:10 NKJV)

Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, … But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 NKJV)

That was nice of the Bobolinks to invite their neighbors and friends. We also should be willing to invite and share with others our blessings. Also, it sounds like they had a lot of fun and chats. Are you friendly to those around you and willing to share. We should share and not expect to receive something in return.

The best thing we can share is our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. ABC’s of the Gospel

Another Bird Tale From

Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories – Gutenberg ebooks

By

Mary Graham Bonner

With four illustrations in color by
Florence Choate and Elizabeth Curtis

 

Daddys Bedtime Story Images

These stories first appeared in the American Press Association Service and the Western Newspaper Union.


Many of the sketches in this volume are the work of Rebecca McCann, creator of the “Cheerful Cherub,” etc.

Daddy's Bedtime Bird Stories by Mary Graham Bonner - 1917
Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories by Mary Graham Bonner – 1917

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Links:

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) ©©Flickr

 

 

  Bird Tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

  ABC’s of the Gospel

 

 

 

 

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) by Ray

 

 

  Icteridae – Oropendolas, Orioles & Blackbirds (and Bobolinks) Family

 

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Fixed Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories

Daddys Bedtime Story Images (1)

Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories had some broken links because of a change in Gutenburg’s policy. They do not want links to their articles and photos. Long story short, I fixed them and now they should be okay. I also added photo links since I had to redo all of them. Here are the stories so far. I realized there are many stories yet to be told yet. Stay tuned!

(If you should find any broken links, please leave a comment on that story so it can be fixed. Thanks.)

These are the ones available for reading:

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Links:

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) ©©Flickr

 

 

  Bird Tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories

 

 

 

 

 

Spanish Sparrow (Passer Hispaniolensis) female ©WikiC

  

 

 

  Wordless Birds

 

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A Red-headed Cousin (Red-headed Woodpecker)

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

IX

A RED-HEADED COUSIN

Besides his half-brothers, the narrow-fronted and ant-eating woodpeckers, the Carpenter has a numerous family of cousins,—the red-headed, the red-bellied, the golden-fronted, the Gila, and the Lewis’s woodpeckers. These all belong to one genus, and are much alike in structure, though totally different in color. Most of them are Western or Southwestern birds, but one is found in nearly all parts of the United States lying between the Hudson River and the Rocky Mountains, and is the most abundant woodpecker of the middle West. This well-known cousin is the red-headed woodpecker, the tricolored beauty that sits on fence-posts and telegraph poles, and sallies out, a blaze of white, steel-blue, and scarlet, a gorgeous spectacle, whenever an insect flits by. He is the one that raps so merrily on your tin roofs when he feels musical.

So named from being found along the Gila River.

In many ways the red-head, as he is familiarly called, is like his carpenter cousin. Both indulge in long-continued drumming; both catch flies expertly on the wing; and both have the curious habit of laying up stores of food for future use. The Californian woodpecker not only stores acorns, but insect food as well. But though the Carpenter’s habits have long been known, it is a comparatively short time since the red-head was first detected laying up winter supplies.

The first to report this habit of the red-head was a gentleman in South Dakota, who one spring noticed that they were eating young grasshoppers. At that season he supposed that all the insects of the year previous would be dead or torpid, and certainly full-grown, while those of the coming summer would be still in the egg. Where could the bird find half-grown grasshoppers? Being interested to explain this, he watched the red-heads until he saw that one went frequently to a post, and appeared to get something out of a crevice in its side. In that post he found nearly a hundred grasshoppers, still alive, but wedged in so tightly they could not escape. He also found other hiding-places all full of grasshoppers, and discovered that the woodpeckers lived upon these stores nearly all winter.

But it is not grasshoppers only that the red-head hoards, though he is very fond of them. In some parts of the country it is easier to find nuts than to find grasshoppers, and they are much less perishable food. The red-head is very fond of both acorns and beechnuts. Probably he eats chestnuts also. Who knows how many kinds of nuts the red-head eats? You might easily determine not only what he will eat, but what he prefers, if a red-headed woodpecker lives near you. Lay out different kinds of nuts on different days, putting them on a shed roof, or in some place where squirrels and blue jays would not be likely to dare to steal them, and see whether he takes all the kinds you offer. Then lay out mixed nuts and notice which ones he carries off first. If he takes all of one kind before he takes any of the others, we may be sure that he has discovered his favorite nut. Such little experiments furnish just the information which scientific men are glad to get.

Red-headed Cousin

It is well known that the red-head is very fond of beechnuts. Every other year we expect a full crop of nuts, and close observation shows that the red-heads come to the North in much larger numbers and stay much later on these years of plenty than on the years of scanty crops. Lately it has been discovered that they not only eat beechnuts all the fall, but store them up for winter use. This time the observation was made in Indiana. There, when the nuts were abundant, the red-heads were seen busily carrying them off. Their accumulations were found in all sorts of places: cavities in old tree-trunks contained nuts by the handful; knot-holes, cracks, crevices, seams in the barns were filled full of nuts. Nuts were tucked into the cracks in fence-posts; they were driven into railroad ties; they were pounded in between the shingles on the roofs; if a board was sprung out, the space behind it was filled with nuts, and bark or wood was often brought to cover over the gathered store. No doubt children often found these hiding-places and ate the nuts, thinking they were robbing some squirrel’s hoard.

In the South, where the beech-tree is replaced by the oak, the red-heads eat acorns. I should like to know whether they store acorns as they do beechnuts. Are chestnuts ever laid up for winter? How far south is the habit kept up? Is it observed beyond the limits of a regular and considerable snowfall? That is, do the birds lay up their nuts in order to keep them out of the snow, or for some other reason?

It remains to be discovered if other woodpeckers have hoarding-places. We know that the sapsucker eats beechnuts, and the downy and the hairy woodpeckers also; that the red-bellied woodpecker and the golden-winged flicker eat acorns; and I have seen the downy woodpecker eating chestnuts, or the grubs in them, hanging head downward at the very tip of the branches like a chickadee. It may be possible that some of these lay up winter stores.

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This is Chapter XI from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.


Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©Bing

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©Bing

Lee’s Addition:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18 KJV)

He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16:2-3 KJV)

The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), which belongs to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family, is a small or medium-sized woodpecker from temperate North America. Their breeding habitat is open country across southern Canada and the eastern-central United States.

The Red-headed Woodpecker was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th-century work Systema Naturae. The specific epithet is derived from the Ancient Greek words erythros ‘red’ and kephalos ‘head’.

Adults are strikingly tri-colored, with a black back and tail and a red head and neck. Their underparts are mainly white. The wings are black with white secondary remiges. Adult males and females are identical in plumage. Juveniles have very similar markings, but have an all grey head.

These birds fly to catch insects in the air or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally even the eggs of other birds. About two-thirds of their diet is made up of plants. They nest in a cavity in a dead tree, utility pole, or a dead part of a tree. They lay 4 to 7 eggs in early May which are incubated for two weeks. Two broods can be raised in a single nesting season. (Wikipedia with editing)

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Interesting Bird Facts about the Red-headed Woodpecker

  • It has the greatest G-force (acceleration due to gravity): beak of red-headed woodpecker hitting bark at 20.9 km/h (13 mph). (Internet)
  • The Red-headed Woodpecker has many nicknames, including half-a-shirt, shirt-tail bird, jellycoat, flag bird, and the flying checker-board. (All About Birds)

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El Carpintero – The Woodpeckers

VIII

EL CARPINTERO

In California and along the southwestern boundary of the United States lives a woodpecker known among the Mexicans as El Carpintero, the Carpenter.

Carpentering is both his profession and his pastime, and he seems really to enjoy the work. When there is nothing more pressing to be done, he spends his time tinkering around, fitting acorns into holes in such great numbers and in so workmanlike a fashion that we do not know which is more remarkable, his patience or his skill. Every acorn is fitted into a separate hole made purposely for it, every one is placed butt end out and is driven in flush with the surface, so that a much frequented tree often appears as if studded with ornamental nails. “What an industrious bird!” we exclaim; but still it takes some time to appreciate how enormous is the labor of the Carpenter. Whole trees will sometimes be covered with his work, until a single tree has thousands of acorns bedded into its bark so neatly and tightly that no other creature can remove them.

Work of Californian Woodpecker.

Work of Californian Woodpecker.

We may take for examination, from specimens of the Carpenter’s work, a piece of spruce bark seven inches long by six wide, containing ten acorns and two empty holes. As spruce bark is so much harder and rougher than the pine bark in which he usually stores his nuts, this specimen looks rough and unfinished, and even shows some acorns driven in sidewise; but for another reason I have preferred it to better-looking examples of his work for study. As we shall see later, it gives us a definite bit of information about the bird.

They often use white-oak bark, fence-posts, telegraph poles, even the stalks of century-plants, when trees are not convenient. (Merriam, Auk, viii. 117.)

Think of the work of digging these twelve holes. Think of the labor of carrying these ten large acorns and driving them in so tightly that after years of shrinking they cannot be removed by a knife without injuring either the acorn or the bark. Yet how small a part of the woodpecker’s year’s work is here! How long could he live on ten acorns? How many must he gather for his winter’s needs? How many must he lose by forgetting to come back to them? We cannot calculate the work a single bird does nor the nuts he eats, for several birds usually work in company and may use the same tree; but all the woodpeckers are large eaters, and the Californian has been singled out for special mention.

Can we estimate the amount of work required to lay up one day’s food? Judging by the amount of nuts some other birds will eat, I should think that all ten acorns contained in this piece of bark could be eaten in one day without surfeit. The estimate seems to me well inside of his probable appetite. I have experimented on this piece of bark, using a woodpecker’s bill for a tool, and it takes me twenty minutes to dig a hole as large but not as neat as these. Doubtless it would not take the woodpecker as long; but at my rate of working, four hours were spent in digging these twelve holes. Then each acorn had to be hunted up and brought to the hole prepared for it. This entailed a journey, it may have been only from one tree to another, or it may have been, and very likely was, a considerable flight. For these acorns grew on oak-trees, and we find them driven into the bark of pines and spruces.

The Woodpeckers

This it is which gives our specimen its particular interest. While oaks and pines may be intermingled, though they naturally prefer different soils and situations, and in the Rocky Mountains the pine-belt lies above the oak region, spruce and oak trees do not grow in the same soil. The spruce-belt stands higher up than the pine. As these nuts are stored in the bark of a spruce-tree, we have clear evidence that the bird must have carried them some distance. For every nut he made the whole journey back and forth, since he could carry but one at a time,—ten long trips back and forth, certainly consuming several minutes each.

Then each acorn had to be fitted to its hole. We have already spoken of the accuracy with which this is done, so that the Carpenter’s work is a standing taunt to the hungry jays and squirrels which would gladly eat his nuts if they could get them. A careful observer tells us that when the hole is too small, the woodpecker takes the acorn out and makes the hole a little larger, working so cautiously, however, that he sometimes makes several trials before the acorn can be fitted and driven in flush with the bark. Some of these acorns show cracks down the sides, as if they had been split either in forcibly pulling them out of a hole not deep enough for them, or in driving them when green and soft into a hole too small for them. Of course after each trial the acorn must be hunted up where it lies on the ground and driven in again, and this takes considerable time.

As nearly as we can estimate it, not less than half a day must have been spent in putting these acorns where we find them. With smaller acorns, stored in pine bark, less time would have been required; but weeks, if not months, of work are spent in laying up the winter’s stores.

How the woodpecker’s back and jaws must have ached! Surely he is human enough to get tired with his work, and it is not play to do what this bird has done. Some of the acorns measure seven tenths of an inch in diameter by nine tenths in length, and the bird that carried them is smaller than a robin. How he must have hurried to reach his tree when the acorn was extra large! Yet he took time to drive every one in point foremost. Even those that lie upon their sides must have been forced into position by tapping the butt. He knows very well which end of an acorn is which, does our Carpenter.

But what is the use of all this work? Why, if he wants acorns, does he not eat them as they lie scattered under the oaks, instead of taking pains to carry them away and put them into holes for the fun of eating them out of the holes afterward? The absurdity of this has led some people to surmise that the Carpenter chooses none but weevilly acorns, and stores them that the grub inside may grow large and fat and delicious. This would be very interesting, if it were true. There must of course be more weevilly acorns on the ground than he picks up, so that he could get as many grubs without taking all this trouble, and there is no reason why they should not be as large and good as those hatched out in holes in trees. When I wish to keep nuts sweet, I spread them out on the attic floor in the sun and air, keeping them where they will not touch each other. The Carpenter does practically the same thing. Is it probable that he tries to raise a fine crop of grubs in this way? If so, one or the other of us is doing just the wrong thing. But if weevils are what the Carpenter wants, then the nuts in the bark should be wormy; yet only two of them show any sign of a weevil, and of these one appears from its dull color and weather-beaten look to be a nut deposited several years before the others by some other woodpecker. Every other acorn is as hard, shining, and bright colored as when it fell from the tree. Evidently the bird picked these nuts up while they were fresh and good; perhaps he chose them because they were good and fresh. The possibility becomes almost a certainty when we observe that naturalists agree that the Carpenter uses no acorns but the sweet-tasting species. Now there are likely to be as many grubs in one kind of an acorn as in another, and he would scarcely refuse any kind that contained them, if grubs were what he wanted. The fact that he takes sweet acorns, and those only, shows that it is the meat of the nut that he wants. And all good naturalists agree that it is the kernel itself that he eats.

Why he stores them is not hard to decide when we remember that the Californian woodpecker, over a large part of his range, is a mountain bird. Though we think of California as the land of sunshine, it is not universal summer there. The mountain ranges have a winter as severe as that of New England, with a heavy snowfall. When the snow lies several feet deep among the pines and spruces of the uplands, the Carpenter is not distressed for food: his pantry is always above the level of the snow; he need neither scratch a meagre living from the edges of the snow-banks, nor go fasting. His fall’s work has provided him not only with the necessities, but with the luxuries of life.

But why does he spend so much time in making holes? He might tuck his nuts into some natural crevice in the oak bark, or drop them into cavities which all birds know so well where to find. And leave them where any pilfering jay would be able to pick them out at his ease? Or put them in the track of every wandering squirrel? Jays and squirrels are never too honest to refuse to steal, but they find it harder to get the woodpecker’s stores out of his pine-tree pantry than to pick up honest acorns of their own. So, like the woodpecker, they lay up their own stores of nuts, and feed on them in winter, or go hungry.

We have had very little aid from anything except the piece of bark we were studying, yet we have learned that the Californian woodpecker is a good carpenter; that he works hard at his trade; that he shows remarkable foresight in collecting his food, much ingenuity in housing it, good judgment in putting it where his enemies cannot get it, and wisdom in the plan he has adopted to give him a good supply of fresh nuts at a season when the autumn’s crop is buried under the deep snow.

If I were a Californian boy, I think I should spend my time in trying to find out more about this wise woodpecker, concerning which much remains to be discovered.

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This is Chapter VIII from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.


Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) Female ©WikiC

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) Female ©WikiC

Lee’s Addition:

He who gathers in summer is a wise son; He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame. (Proverbs 10:5 NKJV)

The bird mentioned in this article is actually the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus bairdi). The subspecies, named “bairdi” is the “El Carpintero.” It has just a slight difference in coloration, but is still an Acorn Woodpecker.

Click this link to see a video of the “bairdi” subspecies.

It appears that the Lord has given this Woodpecker some very good work ethics.

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Persona non Grata (Yellow-bellied Sapsucker) – The Woodpeckers

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Kent Nickell

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Kent Nickell

VII

PERSONA NON GRATA

We shall not attempt to deny that Downy has an unprincipled relative. While it is no discredit, it is a great misfortune to Downy, who is often murdered merely because he looks a little, a very little, like this disreputable cousin of his. The real offender is the sapsucker, that musical genius of whom we have already spoken.

The popular belief is that every woodpecker is a sapsucker, and that every hole he digs in a tree is an injury to the tree. We have seen that every hole Downy digs is a benefit, and now we wish to learn why it is that the sapsucker’s work is any more injurious than other woodpeckers’ holes; how we are to recognize the sapsucker’s work; and how much damage he does. We will do what the scientists often do,—examine the bird’s work and make it tell us the story. There is no danger of hurting the sapsucker’s reputation. The farmer could have no worse opinion of him; and, though the case has been appealed to the higher courts of science more than once,[34] where the sapsucker’s cause has been eloquently and ably defended, the verdict has gone against him. Scientists now do not deny that the sapsucker does harm. But his worst injury is less in the damage he does to the trees than in the ill-will and suspicion he creates against woodpeckers which do no harm at all. If you will study the picture and the descriptions in the Key to the Woodpeckers, you will be able to recognize the sapsucker and his nearest relatives, whether in the East or in the West. But all sapsuckers may be known by their pale yellowish under parts, and by the work they leave behind. As the yellow-bellied sapsucker is the only one found east of the Rocky Mountains, we shall speak only of him and his work.


Work of Sapsucker.

Work of Sapsucker.

Here is a specimen of the yellow-bellied sapsucker’s work which I picked up under the tree from which it had fallen. We do not need to inquire whether the tree was injured by its falling, for we know that the loss of sound and healthy bark is always a damage. Was this sound bark? Yes, because it is still firm and new. The sap in it dried quickly, showing that neither disease nor worms caused it to fall; it is clean and hard on the back, showing that it came from a live tree, not from a dead, rotting log.

Yellow Bellied Woodpecker

Yellow Bellied Woodpecker

How do I know that a bird caused it to fall? The marks are precisely such as are always left by a woodpecker’s bill. How do I know that it was a sapsucker’s work? Because no other woodpecker has the habit which characterizes the sapsucker, of sinking holes in straight lines. The sapsuckers drill lines of holes sometimes around and sometimes up and down the tree-trunk, but almost always in rings or belts about the trunk or branches. A girdle may be but a single line of holes, or it may consist of four or five, or more, lines. Sometimes a band will be two feet wide; and as many as eight hundred holes have been counted on the trunk of a single tree. Such extensive peckings, however, are to be expected only on large forest trees. Most fruit and ornamental trees are girdled a few times about the trunk, and about the principal branches just below the nodes, or forks.

Why did the bird dig these holes? There are three things that he might have obtained,—sap, the inner bark, and boring larvæ. Some naturalists have suggested a fourth as possible,—the insects that would be attracted by the sap.

We will see what the piece of bark tells us. It is four and a half inches long, by an inch and a half wide, and its area of six and three fourths square inches has forty-four punctures. Does this look as if the bird were digging grubs? Do borers live in such straight little streets? The number and arrangement of the holes show that he was not seeking borers, while the naturalists tell us that he never eats a borer unless by accident. What did he get? Undoubtedly he pecked away some of the inner bark. All these holes are much larger on the back side of the specimen than on the outer surface. While the damp inner bark would shrink a little on exposure to the air, we know that it could not shrink as much as this; and investigation has shown that the sapsucker feeds largely on just such food, for it has been found in his stomach. Two other possible food-substances remain,—sap and insects. We know that the sapsucker eats many insects, but it is impossible to prove that he intended these holes for insect lures. Sap he might have gotten from them, if he wished it. We know that the white birch is full of excellent sap, from which can be made a birch candy, somewhat bitter, but nearly as good as horehound candy. The rock and red maples and the white canoe birch are the only trees in our Northern forests from which we make candy. A strong probability that our bird wanted sap is indicated by the arrangement of the holes. Usually he drills his holes in rings around the tree-trunk, but in this instance his longest lines of holes are vertical. If our sapsucker was drilling for sap, he arranged his holes so that it would almost run into his mouth, lazy bird!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) Holes in a dying Birch ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) Holes in a dying Birch ©WikiC

Our piece of bark has taught us:—

  • That the sapsucker injured this tree.
  • That he was not after grubs.
  • That he got, and undoubtedly ate, the soft inner bark of the tree.
  • That he got, and may have drunk, the sap.

We could not infer any more from a single instance, but the naturalists assure us that the bird is in the habit of injuring trees, that he never eats grubs intentionally, and that he eats too much bark for it to be regarded as taken accidentally with other food. About the sap they cannot be so sure, as it digests very quickly. There remain two points to prove: whether the sapsucker drills his holes for the sake of the sap, or for insects attracted by the sap, provided that he eats anything but the inner bark.

Our little specimen can tell us no more, but two mountain ash trees which were intimate acquaintances of mine from childhood can go on with the story. Do not be surprised that I speak of them as friends; the naturalist who does not make friends of the creatures and plants about will hear few stories from them. These trees would not tell this tale to any one but an intimate acquaintance. Let us hear what they have to say about the sapsucker.

There are in the garden of my old home two mountain ash trees, thirty-six years of age, each having grown from a sprout that sprang up beside an older tree cut down in 1863. They stand not more than two rods apart; have the same soil, the same amount of sun and rain, the same exposure to wind, and equal care. During all the years of my childhood one was a perfectly healthy tree, full of fruit in its season, while the other bore only scanty crops, and was always troubled with cracked and scaling bark. To-day the unhealthy tree is more vigorous than ever before, while its formerly stalwart brother stands a mere wreck of its former life and beauty. What should be the cause of such a remarkable change when all conditions of growth have remained the same?

I admit that there is some internal difference in the trees, for all the birds tell me of it. One has always borne larger and more abundant fruit than the other, but this is no reason why the birds should strip all the berries from that tree before eating any from the other. When we know that the favorite tree stands directly in front of the windows of a much-used room and overhangs a frequented garden path, the preference becomes more marked. But robins, grosbeaks, purple finches, and the whole berry-eating tribe agree to choose one and neglect the other, and even the spring migrants will leave the gay red tassels of fruit still swinging on one tree, to scratch over the leaves and eat the fallen berries that lie beneath the other. My own taste is not keen in choosing between bitter berries, but the birds all agree that there is a decided difference in these trees,—did agree, I should say, for their favorite is the tree that is dying. Evidently this is a question of taste. It is interesting to observe that the sapsucker, which was never seen to touch the fruit of the trees, agrees with the fruit-eating birds. Nearly all his punctures were in the tree now dying. Is there a difference in the taste of the sap? Does the taste of the sap affect the taste of the fruit? Or is it merely a question of quantity? If he comes for sap, he prefers one tree to the other on the score either of better quality or greater quantity.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

We will discuss later whether it is sap that he wishes: all that now concerns us is to note that the internal difference, whatever it is, is in favor of the tree that is dying; while the only external difference appears to be the marks left by the sapsucker. While one tree is sparingly marked by him, the other is tattooed with his punctures, placed in single rings and in belts around trunk and branches beneath every fork. It is a law of reasoning that, when every condition but one is the same and the effects are different, the one exceptional condition is the cause of the difference. If these trees are alike in everything except the work of the sapsucker (the only internal difference apparently offsetting his work in part), what inference do we draw as to the effect of his work?

We presume that he is killing the tree, without as yet knowing how he does it. What is his object? Good observers have stated that he draws a little sap in order to attract flies and wasps; that the sap is not drawn for its own sake, but as a bait for insects. Is this theory true?

The first objection is that it is improbable. The sapsucker is a retiring, woodland bird that would hesitate to come into a town garden a mile away from the nearest woods unless to get something he could not find in the woods. Had he wanted insects, he would have tapped a tree in the woods, or else he would have caught them in his usual flycatching fashion. There must have been something about the mountain ash tree that he craved. As it is a very rare tree in the vicinity of my home, the sapsucker’s only chance to satisfy his longing was by coming to some town garden like our own.

Not only is the theory improbable, but it fails to explain the sapsucker’s actions in this instance. In twenty years he was never seen to catch an insect that was attracted by the sap he drew. This does not deny that he may have caught insects now and then, but it does deny that he set the sap running for a lure. As he was never far away, and was sometimes only four and a half feet by measure from a chamber window, all that he did could be seen. He did not catch insects at his holes. He drank sap and ate bark.

Finally, the theory is not only improbable and inadequate, but in this instance it is impossible. I do not remember seeing a sapsucker in the tree in the spring; if he came in the summer, it must have been at rare intervals; but he was always there in the fall, when the leaves were dropping. At that season the insect hordes had been dispersed by the autumnal frosts, so that we know he did not come for insects.

In the many years during which I watched the sapsuckers—for there were undoubtedly a number of different birds that came, although never more than one at a time—there was such a curious similarity in their actions that it is entirely proper to speak as if the same bird returned year after year. His visits, as I have said, were usually made at the same season. He would come silently and early, with the evident intention of making this an all-day excursion. By eight o’clock he would be seen clinging to a branch and curiously observant of the dining-room window, which at that hour probably excited both his interest and his alarm. Early in the day he showed considerable activity, flitting from limb to limb and sinking a few holes, three or four in a row, usually above the previous upper girdle of the limbs he selected to work upon. After he had tapped several limbs he would sit waiting patiently for the sap to flow, lapping it up quickly when the drop was large enough. At first he would be nervous, taking alarm at noises and wheeling away on his broad wings till his fright was over, when he would steal quietly back to his sap-holes. When not alarmed, his only movement was from one row of holes to another, and he tended them with considerable regularity. As the day wore on he became less excitable, and clung cloddishly to his tree-trunk with ever increasing torpidity, until finally he hung motionless as if intoxicated, tippling in sap, a disheveled, smutty, silent bird, stupefied with drink, with none of that brilliancy of plumage and light-hearted gayety which made him the noisiest and most conspicuous bird of our April woods.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Raymond Barlow

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Raymond Barlow

Our mountain ash trees have told us several facts about the sapsucker:—

  • That he did not come to eat insects.
  • That he did come to drink sap, and that he probably ate the inner bark also.
  • That he drank the sap because he liked it, not for some secondary object, as insects.
  • That he could detect difference in the quality or quantity of the sap, which caused him to prefer a particular tree.

That this difference apparently was in the taste of the sap, and that the effects of a day’s drinking of mountain ash sap seemed to indicate some intoxicant or narcotic quality in the sap of that particular tree.

That the effect of his work upon the tree was apparently injurious, as it is the only cause assigned of a healthy tree’s dying before a less healthy one of the same age and species, subject all its life to the same conditions.

So much we have learned about this sapsucker’s habits, and now we should like to know why his work is harmful, and why that of the other woodpeckers is not. It is not because he drinks the sap. All the sap he could eat or waste would not harm the tree, if allowed to run out of a few holes. Think how many gallons the sugar-makers drain out of a single tree without killing the tree. But the sugar-maker takes the sap in the spring, when the crude sap is mounting up in the tree, while the sapsucker does not begin his work till midsummer or autumn, when the tree is sending down its elaborated sap to feed the trunk and make it grow. This accounts for the woodpecker’s digging his pits above the lines of the holes already in the tree. The loss of this elaborated sap is a greater injury than the waste of a far larger quantity of crude sap, so that on the season of the year when the sapsucker digs his holes depends in large measure the amount of damage he does. The injury that he does to the wood itself is trivial. He is not a woodpecker except at time of nesting, and most woodpeckers prefer to build in a dead or dying branch, where their work does no hurt. But we know very well that a tree may be a wreck, riven from top to bottom by lightning, split open to the heart by the tempest, entirely hollow the whole length of its trunk, and yet may flourish and bear fruit. The tree lives in its outer layers. It may be crippled in almost any way, if the bark is left uninjured; but if an inch of bark is cut out entirely around the tree, it will die, for the sap can no longer run up and down to nourish it.

This is the sapsucker’s crime: he girdles the tree,—not at his first coming, nor yet at his second, not with one row of holes, nor yet with two; but finally, after years perhaps, when row after row of punctures, each checking a little the flow of sap, have overlapped and offset each other and narrowed the channels through which it could mount and descend, until the flow is stopped. Then the tree dies. It is not the holes he makes, nor the sap he draws, but the way he places his holes that makes the sapsucker an unwelcome visitor. For an unacceptable individual he is to the farmer,—persona non grata, as kings say of ambassadors who do not please their majesties. What shall we do with him, the only black sheep in all the woodpecker flock? Let him alone, unless we are positively sure that we know him from every other kind of woodpecker. The damage he does is trifling compared with what we should do if we made war upon other woodpeckers for some supposed wrong-doing of the sapsucker.


Lee’s Addition:

The trees of the LORD are full of sap, The cedars of Lebanon which He planted, (Psalms 104:16 NKJV)

This is Chapter VII from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

 

It is quite lenghty, but it is also very interesting. I did not know that the Woodpeckers have a “black sheep in the woodpecker flock.”

I am sure the Lord had a reason why He created the Sapsuckers. Why kill all woodpeckers just to get rid on one “bad” one? That sounds like letting the wheat and tares grow together, so that the good wheat isn’t destroyed by picking the tares.

But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ ” (Matthew 13:29-30 NKJV)

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See:

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Friend Downy – The Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) Brevard Zoo by Dan

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) Brevard Zoo by Dan

VI

FRIEND DOWNY

No better little bird comes to our orchards than our friend the downy woodpecker. He is the smallest and one of the most sociable of our woodpeckers,—a little, spotted, black-and-white fellow, precisely like his larger cousin the hairy, except in having the outer tail-feathers barred instead of plain. Nearly everything that can be said of one is equally true of the other on a smaller scale. They look alike, they act alike, and their nests and eggs are alike in everything but size.

Downy is the most industrious of birds. He is seldom idle and never in mischief. As he does not fear men, but likes to live in orchards and in the neighborhood of fields, he is a good friend to us. On the farm he installs himself as Inspector of Apple-trees. It is an old and an honorable profession among birds. The pay is small, consisting only of what can be picked up, but, as cultivated trees are so infested with insects that food is always plentiful, and as they have usually a dead branch suitable to nest in, Downy asks no more. Summer and winter he works on our orchards. At sunrise he begins, and he patrols the branches till sunset. He taps on the trunks to see whether he can hear any rascally borers inside. He inspects every tree carefully in a thorough and systematic way, beginning low down and following up with a peek into every crevice and a tap upon every spot that looks suspicious. If he sees anything which ought not to be there, he removes it at once.

Downy

Downy

A moth had laid her eggs in a crack in the bark, expecting to hatch out a fine brood of caterpillars: but Downy ate them all, thus saving a whole branch from being overrun with caterpillars and left fruitless, leafless, and dying. A beetle had just deposited her eggs here. Downy saw her, and took not only the eggs but the beetle herself. Those eggs would have hatched into boring larvæ, which would have girdled and killed some of the branches, or have burrowed under the bark, causing it to fall off, or have bored into the wood and, perhaps, have killed the tree.

Nor is the full-grown borer exempt. Downy hears him, pecks a few strokes, and harpoons him with unerring aim. When Downy has made an arrest in this way, the prisoner does not escape from the police. Here is a colony of ants, running up the tree in one line and down in another, touching each other with their feelers as they pass. A feast for our friend! He takes both columns, and leaves none to tell the tale. This is a good deed, too, since ants are of no benefit to fruit-trees and are very fond of the dead-ripe fruit.

And Downy is never too busy to listen for borers. They are fine plump morsels much to his taste, not so sour as ants, nor so hard-shelled as beetles, nor so insipid as insects’ eggs. A good borer is his preferred dainty. The work he does in catching borers is of incalculable benefit, for no other bird can take his place. The warblers, the vireos, and some other birds in summer, the chickadees and nuthatches all the year round, are helping to eat up the eggs and insects that lie near the surface, but the only birds equipped for digging deep under the bark and dragging forth the refractory grubs are the woodpeckers.

So Downy works at his self-appointed task in our orchards summer and winter, as regular as a policeman on his beat. But he is much more than a policeman, for he acts as judge, jury, jailer, and jail. All the evidence he asks against any insect is to find him loafing about the premises. “I swallow him first and find out afterwards whether he was guilty,” says Downy with a wink and a nod.

Most birds do not stay all the year, in the North, at least, and most, in return for their labors in the spring, demand some portion of the fruit or grain of midsummer and autumn. Not so Downy. His services are entirely gratuitous; he works twice as long as most others. He spends the year with us, no winter ever too severe for him, no summer too hot; and he never taxes the orchard, nor takes tribute from the berry patch. Only a quarter of his food is vegetable, the rest being made up of injurious insects; and the vegetable portion consists entirely of wild fruits and weed-seeds, nothing that man eats or uses. Downy feeds on the wild dogwood berries, a few pokeberries, the fruit of the woodbine, and the seeds of the poison-ivy,—whatever scanty and rather inferior fare is to be had at Nature’s fall and winter table.

If in the cold winter weather we will take pains to hang out a bone with some meat on it, raw or cooked, or a piece of suet, taking care that it is not salted,—for few wild birds except the crossbills can eat salted food,—we may see how he appreciates our thoughtfulness. Shall we grudge him a bone from our own abundance, or neglect to fasten it firmly out of reach of the cat and dog? If his cousin the hairy and his neighbor the chickadee come and eat with him, bid them a hearty welcome. The feast is spread for all the birds that help men, and friend Downy shall be their host.


Lee’s Addition:

Downy Woodpecker by Lee Lake Parker Park

Downy Woodpecker by Lee Lake Parker Park

He will bless them that fear the LORD, both small and great. (Psalms 115:13 KJV)

This is Chapter VI from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

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Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

We have another neat creation from the Lord. I always enjoy watching this little Woodpecker checking out the trees nearby.

Adult Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest of North America’s woodpeckers but there are many smaller species elsewhere, especially the piculets. The total length of the species ranges from 5.5 to 7.1 in (14 to 18 cm) and the wingspan from 9.8 to 12 in (25 to 31 cm).

The Downy Woodpecker is mainly black on the upperparts and wings, with a white back, throat and belly and white spotting on the wings. There is a white bar above the eye and one below. They have a black tail with white outer feathers barred with black. Adult males have a red patch on the back of the head whereas juvenile birds display a red cap.

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) by Daves BirdingPix

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) by Daves BirdingPix

The Downy Woodpecker is virtually identical in plumage pattern to the much larger Hairy Woodpecker, but it can be distinguished from the Hairy by the presence of black spots on its white tail feathers and the length of its bill. The Downy Woodpecker’s bill is shorter than its head, whereas the Hairy Woodpecker’s bill is approximately equal to head length.

The Downy Woodpecker gives a number of vocalizations, including a short pik call. Like other woodpeckers, it also produces a drumming sound with its beak as it pecks into trees. Compared to other North American species its drums are slow. (Wikipedia with editing and sounds from xeno-canto)

Drumming

pik and rattle call

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Ochre-collared Piculet (Picumnus temminckii) by Dario Sanches

Ochre-collared Piculet (Picumnus temminckii) by Dario Sanches

See:

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Bird Tales – The Woodpeckers Bird Band

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) by Daves BirdingPix

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) by Daves BirdingPix

I just published this on the Birds of the Bible For Kids blog. I had so much enjoyment putting it together that I thought I would also share it here.

THE WOODPECKERS START A BIRD BAND

The Woodpecker family were around on various trees drumming, drumming on the bark. Mr. Hairy Woodpecker, Mr. Downy Woodpecker, and Mr. Red-Headed Woodpecker were hard at work.

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

“Let’s start a band,” suggested Mr. Hairy Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

“What’s that you say?” asked Mr. Red-Headed Woodpecker, who had been so busy at work that he had not heard what Mr. Hairy Woodpecker had been suggesting. “A band,” repeated Mr. Hairy Woodpecker. “What sort of a band?” asked Mr. Red-Headed Woodpecker. “In the first place,” continued Mr. Hairy Woodpecker, “our bills are not only fine tools for the work we have to do getting the insects from the trees, and burrowing for our nests, but they would be splendid to use in beating the drums in a band.” “Where would we get the drums?” asked Mr. Red-Headed Woodpecker. “The trees, of course, you silly!” said Mr. Hairy Woodpecker. “Oh yes, yes,” agreed Mr. Red-Headed Woodpecker. And Mr. Downy Woodpecker said, “Of course, of course. The trees will be our drums.”

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) on Thistle by Fenton

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) on Thistle by Fenton

“We’ll get the other birds,” said Mr. Hairy Woodpecker, “to help us. We need something in a band besides the drums. We will ask the goldfinches, the mocking-birds, the bobolinks, the phœbe and chickadee families, all of the warbler and vireo families, and the robins of course. Then I think we’ll ask the orioles, the whippoorwills, the thrush family, and the song sparrows.”

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) by Daves BirdingPix

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) by Daves BirdingPix

“Oh,” said Mr. Downy Woodpecker, “that will make a perfect band. We’d better get started right away.” And the woodpeckers began to practise. They made such a noise that the birds came from far and near to see what they were doing. Mr. Sapsucker, Mr. Crested Woodpecker, and Mr. Flicker Woodpecker had all joined in beating the drums too!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Raymond Barlow

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Raymond Barlow

“Why are you making so much noise?” asked the birds as they flew around to the nearby trees to talk to the woodpeckers. “Oh,” said Mr. Hairy Woodpecker, “we were just going to ask you all to join our band. We will beat the drums.”

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) by Daves BirdingPix

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) by Daves BirdingPix

“And just what do you want us to do?” asked Mr. Robin Redbreast, who was always eager to help. “You must all sing.”

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) by J Fenton

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) by J Fenton

“But we all sing differently,” chirped a song sparrow. “We know different tunes and different songs.” “Oh,” said Mr. Hairy Woodpecker, “I never thought about that. But never mind, you can have little parts to sing alone, and other choruses where you will all sing together. I’m sure it will be a very fine band after we have practised.” And they began pounding the drums again. “Well,” said Mr. Robin Redbreast, “if the bird band isn’t to be the finest in the land, at least we’ll make a cheerful noise!”

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) by J Fenton

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) by J Fenton

* Another Bird Tale From

Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories – Gutenberg ebooks

By

Mary Graham Bonner

With four illustrations in color by Florence Choate and Elizabeth Curtis

decoration

These stories first appeared in the American Press Association Service and the Western Newspaper Union.


Many of the sketches in this volume are the work of Rebecca McCann, creator of the “Cheerful Cherub,” etc.

Daddy's Bedtime Bird Stories by Mary Graham Bonner - 1917

Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories by Mary Graham Bonner – 1917


Lee’s Addition:

Psalms 98:4-8 KJV (4) Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. (5) Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. (6) With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. (7) Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (8) Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together

Meet the whole band: (a few missed the photo session)

To see the slideshow click here

 

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How A Flicker Feeds Her Young – The Woodpeckers

Northern Flicker cropped by Lee at S. Lk Howard Ntr Pk

Northern Flicker by Lee at S. Lk Howard Nature Pk

V

HOW A FLICKER FEEDS HER YOUNG

Based upon the observations of Mr. William Brewster.

As the house of the woodpecker has no windows and the old bird very nearly fills the doorway when she comes home, it is hard to find out just how she feeds her little ones. But one of our best naturalists has had the opportunity to observe it, and has told what he saw.

A flicker had built a nest in the trunk of a rather small dead tree which, after the eggs were hatched, was accidentally broken off just at the entrance hole. This left the whole cavity exposed to the weather; but it was too late to desert the nest, and impossible to remove the young birds to another nest.

When first visited, the five little birds were blind, naked, and helpless. They were motherless, too. Some one must have killed their pretty mother; for she never came to feed them, and the father was taking all the care of his little family. When disturbed the little birds hissed like snakes, as is the habit of the callow young of woodpeckers, chickadees, and other birds nesting habitually in holes in trees. When they were older and their eyes were open, they made a clatter much like the noise of a mowing-machine, and loud enough to be heard thirty yards away.

The father came at intervals of from twenty to sixty minutes to feed the little ones. He was very shy, and came so quietly that he would be first seen when he alighted close by with a low little laugh or a subdued but anxious call to the young. “Here I am again!” he laughed; or “Are you all right, children?” he called to them. “All right!” they would answer, clattering in concert like a two-horse mower.

As soon as they heard him scratching on the tree-trunk, up they would all clamber to the edge of the nest and hold out their gaping mouths to be fed. Each one was anxious to be fed first, because there never was enough to go round. There was always one that, like the little pig of the nursery tale, “got none.” When he came to the nest, the father would look around a moment, trying to choose the one he wanted to feed first. Did he always pick out the poor little one that had none the time before, I wonder?

After the old bird had made his choice, he would bend over the little bird and drive his long bill down the youngster’s throat as if to run it through him. Then the little bird would catch hold as tightly as he could and hang on while his father jerked him up and down for a second or a second and a half with great rapidity. What was he doing? He was pumping food from his own stomach into the little one’s. Many birds feed their young in this way. They do not hold the food in their own mouths, but swallow and perhaps partially digest it, so that it shall be fit for the tender little stomachs.

While the woodpecker was pumping in this manner his motions were much the same as when he drummed, but his tail twitched as rapidly as his head and his wings quivered. The motion seemed to shake his whole body.

In two weeks from the time when the little birds were blind, naked, helpless nestlings they became fully feathered and full grown, able to climb up to the top of the nest, from which they looked out with curiosity and interest. At any noise they would slip silently back. A day or two later they left the old nest and began their journeys.

No naturalist has been able to tell us whether other woodpeckers than the golden-winged flicker feed their young in this way; and little is known of the number of kinds of birds that use this method, but it is suspected that it is far more common than has ever been determined. If an old bird is seen to put her bill down a young one’s throat and keep it there even so short a time as a second, it is probable that she is feeding the little one by regurgitation, that is, by pumping up food from her own stomach. Any bird seen doing this should be carefully watched. It has long been known that the domestic pigeon does this, and the same has been observed a number of times of the ruby-throated hummingbird. A California lady has taken some remarkable photographs of the Anna’s hummingbird in the act, showing just how it is done.


Lee’s Addition:

And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20 KJV)

This is Chapter V from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a medium-sized member of the woodpecker family. It is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and is one of the few woodpecker species that migrate. There are over 100 common names for the Northern Flicker. Among them are: Yellowhammer, clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird. Many of these names are attempts at imitating some of its calls.

Check out their sounds at Northern Flicker – All About Birds

Their breeding habitat consists of forested areas across North America and as far south as Central America. They are cavity nesters who typically nest in trees but they will also use posts and birdhouses if sized and situated appropriately. They prefer to excavate their own home although they will reuse and repair damaged or abandoned nests. Abandoned Flicker nests create habitat for other cavity nesters. Flickers are sometimes driven from nesting sites by another cavity nester, European starlings.

It takes about 1 to 2 weeks to build the nest which is built by both sexes of the mating pairs. The entrance hole is roughly 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) wide.

A typical clutch consists of 6 to 8 eggs whose shells are pure white with a smooth surface and high gloss. The eggs are the second largest of the North American woodpecker species, exceeded only by the Pileated Woodpecker’s. Incubation is by both sexes for approximately 11 to 12 days. The young are fed by regurgitation and fledge about 25 to 28 days after hatching. (Wikipedia)

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See:

Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Wordless Birds

The Woodpeckers on Birds of the Bible For Kids site. (With some words modified for easier reading.)

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Other Flickers around the World:

Interesting link to a reader’s photos – Wonderful Woodpecker Family

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How The Woodpecker Makes A House – The Woodpeckers

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) with Young ©WikiC

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) with Young ©WikiC

IV

HOW THE WOODPECKER MAKES A HOUSE

All woodpeckers make their houses in the wood of trees, either the trunk or one of the branches. Almost the only exceptions to this rule are those that live in the treeless countries of the West. In the torrid deserts of Arizona and the Southwest, some species are obliged to build in the thorny branches of giant cacti, which there grow to an enormous size. In the treeless plains to the northward, a few individuals, for lack of anything so suitable as the cactus, dig holes in clay banks, or even lay their eggs upon the surface of the prairie. In a country where chimney swallows nest in deserted houses, and sand martins burrow in the sides of wells, who wonders at the flicker’s thinking that the side of a haystack, the hollow of a wheel-hub, or the cavity under an old ploughshare, is an ideal home? But in wooded countries the woodpeckers habitually nest in trees. The only exceptions I know are a few flickers’ holes in old posts, and a few instances where flickers[21] have pecked through the weatherboarding of a house to nest in the space between the walls.

But because a bird nests in a hole in a tree, it is not necessarily a woodpecker. The sparrow-hawk, the house sparrow, the tree swallow, the bluebird, most species of wrens, and several of the smaller species of owls nest either in natural cavities in trees or in deserted woodpeckers’ holes. The chickadees, the crested titmice, and the nuthatches dig their own holes after the same pattern as the woodpecker’s. However, the large, round holes were all made by woodpeckers, and of those under two inches in diameter, our friend Downy made his full share. It is easy to tell who made the hole, for the different birds have different styles of housekeeping. The chickadees and nuthatches always build a soft little nest of grass, leaves, and feathers, while the woodpeckers lay their eggs on a bed of chips, and carry nothing in from outside.

Soon after they have mated in the spring, the woodpeckers begin to talk of housekeeping. First, a tree must be chosen. It may be sound or partly decayed, one of a clump or solitary; but it is usually dead or hollow-hearted, and at least partly surrounded by other trees. Sometimes a limb is chosen, sometimes an upright trunk, and the nest may be from two feet to one hundred feet from the ground, though most frequently it will be found not less than ten nor more than thirty feet up. However odd the location finally occupied, it is likely that it was not the first one selected. A woodpecker will dig half a dozen houses rather than occupy an undesirable tenement. It is very common to find their unfinished holes and the wider-mouthed, shallower pockets which they dig for winter quarters; for those that spend their winters in the cold North make a hole to live in nights and cold and stormy days.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) by Raymond Barlow

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) by Raymond Barlow

The first step in building is to strike out a circle in the bark as large as the doorway is to be; that is, from an inch and a half to three or four inches in diameter according to the size of the woodpecker. It is nearly always a perfect circle. Try, if you please, to draw freehand a circle of dots as accurate as that which the woodpecker strikes out hurriedly with his bill, and see whether it is easy to do as well as he does.

If the size and shape of the doorway suit him, the woodpecker scales off the bark inside his circle of holes and begins his hard work. He seems to take off his coat and work in his shirtsleeves, so vigorously does he labor as he clings with his stout toes, braced in position by his pointed tail. The chips fly out past him, or if they lie in the hole, he sweeps them out with his bill and pelts again at the same place. The pair take turns at the work. Who knows how long they work before resting? Do they take turns of equal length? Does one work more than the other? A pair of flickers will dig about two inches in a day, the hole being nearly two and a half inches in diameter. A week or more is consumed in digging the nest, which, among the flickers, is commonly from ten to eighteen inches deep. The hole usually runs in horizontally for a few inches and then curves down, ending in a chamber large enough to make a comfortable nest for the mother and her babies.

What a good time the little ones have in their hole! Rain and frost cannot chill them; no enemy but the red squirrel is likely to disturb them. There they lie in their warm, dark chamber, looking up at the ray of light that comes in the doorway, until at last they hear the scratching of their mother’s feet as she alights on the outside of the tree and clambers up to feed them. What a piping and calling they raise inside the hole, and how they all scramble up the walls of their chamber and thrust out their beaks to be fed, till the old tree looks as if it were blossoming with little woodpeckers’ hungry mouths!

Lee’s Addition:

Pileated Woodpecker, female at nest hole

Pileated Woodpecker, female at nest hole

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly and are filled with sap, the cedars of Lebanon which He has planted, Where the birds make their nests; as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. (Psalms 104:16-17 AMP)

This is Chapter IV from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

If you have ever been in the woods and heard a Woodpecker or other member of their family working on their “house,” that sound helps locate them. The Pileated Woodpeckers especially sound like they are tearing the place apart. The Lord created this family to prefer having their home in the tree trunks and larger limbs. He has prepared them with beaks that can handle all the pounding they do and a cushioned forehead to protect their brains.  The video on the Woodpeckers page explains part of this.

See:

Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Wordless Birds

The Woodpeckers on Birds of the Bible For Kids site. (With some words modified for easier reading.)

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Interesting link to a reader’s photos – Wonderful Woodpecker Family

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How The Woodpecker Courts His Mate – The Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) Brevard Zoo by Dan

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) Brevard Zoo by Dan

III

HOW THE WOODPECKER COURTS HIS MATE

Other birds woo their mates with songs, but the woodpecker has no voice for singing. He cannot pour out his soul in melody and tell his love his devotion in music. How do songless birds express their emotions? Some by grotesque actions and oglings, as the horned owl, and some by frantic dances, as the sharp-tailed grouse, woo and win their mates; but the amorous woodpecker, not excepting the flickers, which also woo by gestures, whacks a piece of seasoned timber, and rattles off interminable messages according to the signal code set down for woodpeckers’ love affairs. He is the only instrumental performer among the birds; for the ruffed grouse, though he drums, has no drum.

There is no cheerier spring sound, in our belated Northern season, than the quick, melodious rappings of the sapsucker from some dead ash limb high above the meadow. It is the best performance of its kind: he knows the capabilities of his instrument, and gets out of it all the music there is in it. Most if not all woodpeckers drum occasionally, but drumming is the special accomplishment of the sapsucker. He is easily first. In Maine, where they are abundant, they make the woods in springtime resound with their continual rapping.

Early in April, before the trees are green with leaf, or the willows have lost their silky plumpness, when the early round-leafed yellow violet is cuddling among the brown, dead leaves, I hear the yellow-bellied sapsucker along the borders of the trout stream that winds down between the mountains. The dead branch of an elm-tree is his favorite perch, and there, elevated high above all the lower growth, he sits rolling forth a flood of sound like the tremolo of a great organ. Now he plays staccato,—detached, clear notes; and now, accelerating his time, he dashes through a few bars of impetuous hammerings. The woods re-echo with it; the mountains give it faintly back. Beneath him the ruffed grouse paces back and forth on his favorite mossy log before he raises the palpitating whirr of his drumming. A chickadee digging in a rotten limb pauses to spit out a mouthful of punky wood and the brown Vanessa, edged with yellow, first butterfly of the season, flutters by on rustling wings. So spring arrives in Maine, ushered in by the reveille of the sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Drumming

So ambitious is the sapsucker of the excellence of his performance that no instrument but the best will satisfy him. He is always experimenting, and will change his anvil for another as soon as he discovers one of superior resonance. They say he tries the tin pails of the maple-sugar makers to see if these will not give him a clearer note; that he drums on tin roofs and waterspouts till he loosens the solder and they come tumbling down. But usually he finds nothing so near his liking as a hard-wood branch, dead and barkless, the drier, the harder, the thinner, the finer grained, so much the better for his uses.

Deficient as they are in voice, the woodpeckers do not lack a musical ear. Mr. Burroughs tells us that a downy woodpecker of his acquaintance used to change his key by tapping on a knot an inch or two from his usual drumming place, thereby obtaining a higher note. Alternating between the two places, he gave to his music the charm of greater variety. The woodpeckers very quickly discover the superior conductivity of metals. In parts of the country where woodpeckers are more abundant than good drumming trees, a tin roof proves an almost irresistible attraction. A lightning-rod will sometimes draw them farther than it would an electric bolt; and a telegraph pole, with its tinkling glasses and ringing wires, gives them great satisfaction. If men did not put their singing poles in such public places, their music would be much more popular with the woodpeckers; but even now the birds often venture on the dangerous pastime and hammer you out a concord of sweet sounds from the mellow wood-notes, the clear peal of the glass, and the ringing overtones of the wires.

Northern Flicker cropped by Lee at S. Lk Howard Ntr Pk

Northern Flicker by Lee (cropped)

Northern Flicker calling and drumming

The flicker often telegraphs his love by tapping either on a forest tree or on some loose board of a barn or outhouse; but he has other ways of courting his lady. On fine spring mornings, late in April, I have seen them on a horizontal bough, the lady sitting quietly while her lover tried to win her approval by strange antics. Quite often there are two males displaying their charms in open rivalry, but once I saw them when the field was clear.

If fine clothes made a gentleman, this brave wooer would have been first in all the land: for his golden wings and tail showed their glittering under side as he spread them; his scarlet headdress glowed like fire; his rump was radiantly white, not to speak of the jetty black of his other ornaments and the beautiful ground-colors of his body. He danced before his lady, showing her all these beauties, and perhaps boasting a little of his own good looks, though she was no less beautiful. He spread his wings and tail for her inspection; he bowed, to show his red crescent; he bridled, he stepped forward and back and sidewise with deep bows to his mistress, coaxing her with the mellowest and most enticing co-wee-tucks, which no doubt in his language meant “Oh, promise me,” laughing now and then his jovial wick-a-wick-a-wick-a-wick-a, either in glee or nervousness. It was all so very silly—and so very nice! I wonder how it all came out. Did she promise him? Or did she find a livelier suitor?


Lee’s Addition:

Pileated Woodpecker by Lee at Circle B

Pileated Woodpecker by Lee at Circle B

And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (Genesis 1:22 ESV)

This is Chapter III from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

Members of Picidae are typically monogamous. A pair will work together to help build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise their altricial young. However, in most species the male does most of the nest excavation and takes the night shift while incubating the eggs. A nest will usually consist of 2–5 round white eggs. Since these birds are cavity nesters, their eggs do not need to be camouflaged and the white color helps the parents to see them in dim light. The eggs are incubated for about 11–14 days before the chicks are born. It takes about 18–30 days before the young are ready to leave the nest. (Wikipedia with editing)

See:

Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Gospel Message

The Woodpeckers on Birds of the Bible For Kids site. (With some words modified for easier reading.)

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How the Woodpecker Catches A Grub – The Woodpeckers

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) by Daves BirdingPix

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) by Daves BirdingPix

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father keeps feeding them. Are you not worth much more than they? (Matthew 6:26 AMP)


Chapter II

HOW THE WOODPECKER CATCHES A GRUB

Did you ever see a hairy woodpecker strolling about a tree for what he could pick up?

There is a whur-r-rp of gay black and white wings and the flash of a scarlet topknot as, with a sharp cry, he dashes past you, strikes the limb solidly with both feet, and instantly sidles behind it, from which safe retreat he keeps a sharp black eye fixed upon your motions. If you make friends with him by keeping quiet, he will presently forgive you for being there and hop to your side of the limb, pursuing his ordinary work in the usual way, turning his head from side to side, inspecting every crevice, and picking up whatever looks appetizing. Any knot or little seam in the bark is twice scanned; in such places moths and beetles lay their eggs. Little cocoons are always dainty morsels, and large cocoons contain a feast. The butterfly-hunter who is hoping to hatch out some fine cecropia moths knows well that a large proportion of all the cocoons he discovers will be empty. The hairy woodpecker has been there before him, and has torn the chrysalis out of its silken cradle. For this the farmer should thank him heartily, even if the butterfly-hunter does not, for the cecropia caterpillar is destructive.

But sometimes, on the fair bark of a smooth limb, the woodpecker stops, listens, taps, and begins to drill. He works with haste and energy, laying open a deep hole. For what? An apple-tree borer was there cutting out the life of the tree. The farmer could see no sign of him; neither could the woodpecker, but he could hear the strong grub down in his little chamber gnawing to make it longer, or, frightened by the heavy footsteps on his roof, scrambling out of the way.

Boring larva.
Boring larva

It is easy to hear the borer at work in the tree. When a pine forest has been burned and the trees are dead but still standing, there will be such a crunching and grinding of borers eating the dead wood that it can be heard on all sides many yards away. Even a single borer can sometimes be heard distinctly by putting the ear to the tree. Sound travels much farther through solids than it does through air; notice how much farther you can hear a railroad train by the click of the rails than by the noise that comes on the air. Even our dull ears can detect the wood worm, but we cannot locate him. How, then, is the woodpecker to do what we cannot do?

Doubtless experience teaches him much, but one observer suggests that the woodpecker places the grub by the sense of touch. He says he has seen the red-headed woodpecker drop his wings till they trailed along the branch, as if to determine where the vibrations in the wood were strongest, and thus to decide where the grub was boring. But no one else appears to have noticed that woodpeckers are in the habit of trailing their wings as they drill for grubs. It would be a capital study for one to attempt to discover whether the woodpecker locates his grub by feeling, or whether he does it by hearing alone. Only one should be sure he is looking for grubs and not for beetles’ eggs, nor for ants, nor for caterpillars. By the energy with which he drills, and the size of the hole left after he has found his tidbit, one can decide whether he was working for a borer.

But when the borer has been located, he has yet to be captured. There are many kinds of borers. Some channel a groove just beneath the bark and are easily taken; but others tunnel deep into the wood. I measured such a hole the other day, and found it was more than eight inches long and larger than a lead-pencil, bored through solid rock-maple wood. The woodpecker must sink a hole at right angles to this channel and draw the big grub out through his small, rough-sided hole. You would be surprised, if you tried to do the same with a pair of nippers the size of the woodpecker’s bill, to find how strong the borer is, how he can buckle and twist, how he braces himself against the walls of his house. Were your strength no greater than the woodpecker’s, the task would be much harder. Indeed, a large grub would stand a good chance of getting away but for one thing, the woodpecker spears him, and thereby saves many a dinner for himself.

Indian spear.
Indian spear

Here is a primitive Indian fish-spear, such as the Penobscots used. To the end of a long pole two wooden jaws are tied loosely enough to spring apart a little under pressure, and midway between them, firmly driven into the end of the pole, is a point of iron. When a fish was struck, the jaws sprung apart under the force of the blow, guiding the iron through the body of the fish, which was held securely in the hollow above, that just fitted around his sides, and by the point itself.

Solomon Islander's spear.
Solomon Islander’s Spear

The tool with which the woodpecker fishes for a grub is very much the same. His mandibles correspond to the two movable jaws. They are knife-edged, and the lower fits exactly inside the upper, so that they give a very firm grip. In addition, the upper one is movable. All birds can move the upper mandible, because it is hinged to the skull. (Watch a parrot some day, if you do not believe it.) A medium-sized woodpecker, like the Lewis’s, can elevate his upper mandible at least a quarter of an inch without opening his mouth at all. This enables him to draw his prey through a smaller hole than would be needed if he must open his jaws along their whole length. Between the mandibles is the sharp-pointed tongue, which can be thrust entirely through a grub, holding him impaled. Unlike the Indian’s spear-point, the woodpecker’s tongue is barbed heavily on both sides, and it is extensile. As a tool it resembles the Solomon Islander’s spear. A medium-sized woodpecker can dart his tongue out two inches or more beyond the tip of his bill. A New Bedford boy might tell us, and very correctly, that the woodpecker harpoons his grub, just as a whaleman harpoons a whale. If the grub tries to back off into his burrow, out darts the long, barbed tongue and spears him. Then it drags him along the crooked tunnel and into the narrow shaft picked by the woodpecker, where the strong jaws seize and hold him firmly.


Lee’s Addition:

Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) With Bug In Its Beak ©WikiC

Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) With Bug In Its Beak ©WikiC

I know and am acquainted with all the birds of the mountains, and the wild animals of the field are Mine and are with Me, in My mind. (Psalms 50:11 AMP)

This is Chapter II from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

The diet of woodpeckers consists mainly of insects and their grubs taken from living and dead trees, and other arthropods, along with fruit, nuts and sap from live trees. Ecologically, they help to keep trees healthy by keeping them from suffering mass infestations. The family is noted for its ability to acquire wood-boring grubs using their bills for hammering, but overall the family is characterized by its dietary flexibility, with many species being both highly omnivorous and opportunistic. The insect prey most commonly taken are those found inside tree trunks, whether they are alive or rotten, and in crevices in the bark. These include beetles and their grubs, ants, termites, spiders, and caterpillars. These may be obtained either by gleaning or, more famously, by excavating wood. Having hammered a hole into the wood, the prey is excavated by a long barbed tongue.

The ability to excavate allows woodpeckers to obtain tree sap, an important source of food for some species. Most famously, the sapsuckers (genus Sphyrapicus) feed in this fashion, but the technique is not restricted to these and others, such as the Acorn Woodpecker and White-headed Woodpecker, also feed in this way. It was once thought that the technique was restricted to the New World, but Old World species, such as the Arabian Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker, also feed in this way. (Wikipedia)

The tongue is mentioned on a video on The Woodpeckers page. This video will be referred to again and will be on The Woodpeckers page. It is being introduced here.

See:

Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Gideon

The Woodpeckers on Birds of the Bible For Kids site. (With some words modified for easier reading.)

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How To Know A Woodpecker – The Woodpeckers

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

 


Chapter I

HOW TO KNOW A WOODPECKER

The woodpecker is the easiest of all birds to recognize. Even if entirely new to you, you may readily decide whether a bird is a woodpecker or not.

The woodpecker is always striking and is often gay in color. He is usually noisy, and his note is clear and characteristic. His shape and habits are peculiar, so that whenever you see a bird clinging to the side of a tree “as if he had been thrown at it and stuck,” you may safely call him a woodpecker. Not that all birds which cling to the bark of trees are woodpeckers,—for the chickadees, the crested titmice, the nuthatches, the brown creepers, and a few others like the kinglets and some wrens and wood-warblers more or less habitually climb up and down the tree-trunks; but these do it with a pretty grace wholly unlike the woodpecker’s awkward, cling-fast way of holding on. As the largest of these is smaller than the smallest woodpecker, and as none of them (excepting only the tiny kinglets) ever shows the patch of yellow or scarlet which always marks the head of the male woodpecker, and which sometimes adorns his mate, there is no danger of making mistakes.

Blue Nuthatch (Sitta azurea) by Ian

Blue Nuthatch (Sitta azurea) by Ian

The nuthatches are the only birds likely to be confused with woodpeckers, and these have the peculiar habit of traveling down a tree-trunk with their heads pointing to the ground. A woodpecker never does this; he may move down the trunk of the tree he is working on, but he will do it by hopping backward. A still surer sign of the woodpecker is the way he sits upon his tail, using it to brace him. No other birds except the chimney swift and the little brown creeper ever do this. A sure mark, also, is his feet, which have two toes turned forward and two turned backward. We find this arrangement in no other North American birds except the cuckoos and our one native parroquet. However, there is one small group of woodpeckers which have but three toes, and these are the only North American land-birds that do not have four well-developed toes.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) by Reinier Munguia

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) by Reinier Munguia

In coloration the woodpeckers show a strong family likeness. Except in some young birds, the color is always brilliant and often is gaudy. Usually it shows much clear black and white, with dashes of scarlet or yellow about the head. Sometimes the colors are “solid,” as in the red-headed woodpecker; sometimes they lie in close bars, as in the red-bellied species; sometimes in spots and stripes, as in the downy and hairy; but there is always a contrast, never any blending of hues. The red or yellow is laid on in well-defined patches—square, oblong, or crescentic—upon the crown, the nape, the jaws, or the throat; or else in stripes or streaks down the sides of the head and neck, as in the logcock, or pileated woodpecker.

Pileated Woodpecker by Lee

Pileated Woodpecker by Lee

There is no rule about the color markings of the sexes, as in some families of birds. Usually the female lacks all the bright markings of the male; sometimes, as in the logcock, she has them but in more restricted areas; sometimes, as in the flickers, she has all but one of the male’s color patches; and in a few species, as the red-headed and Lewis’s woodpeckers, the two sexes are precisely alike in color. In the black-breasted woodpecker, sometimes called Williamson’s sapsucker, the male and female are so totally different that they were long described and named as different birds. It sometimes happens that a young female will show the color marks of the male, but will retain them only the first year.

Williamson's Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) by Judd Patterson

Williamson’s Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) by Judd Patterson

Though the woodpeckers cling to the trunks of trees, they are not exclusively climbing birds. Some kinds, like the flickers, are quite as frequently found on the ground, wading in the grass like meadowlarks. Often we may frighten them from the tangled vines of the frost grape and the branches of wild cherry trees, or from clumps of poison-ivy, whither they come to eat the fruit. The red-headed woodpecker is fond of sitting on fence posts and telegraph poles; and both he and the flicker frequently alight on the roofs of barns and houses and go pecking and pattering over the shingles. The sapsuckers and several other kinds will perch on dead limbs, like a flycatcher, on the watch for insects; the flickers, and more rarely other kinds, will sit crosswise of a limb instead of crouching lengthwise of it, as is the custom with woodpeckers.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Red-shafted ©WikiC

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Red-shafted ©WikiC

All these points you will soon learn. You will become familiar with the form, the flight, and the calls of the different woodpeckers; you will learn not only to know them by name, but to understand their characters; they will become your acquaintances, and later on your friends.

This heavy bird, with straight, chisel bill and sharp-pointed tail-feathers; with his short legs and wide, flapping wings, his unmusical but not disagreeable voice, and his heavy, undulating, business-like flight, is distinctly bourgeois, the type of a bird devoted to business and enjoying it. No other bird has so much work to do all the year round, and none performs his task with more energy and sense. The woodpecker makes no aristocratic pretensions, puts on none of the coy graces and affectations of the professional singer; even his gay clothes fit him less jauntily than they would another bird. He is artisan to the backbone,—a plain, hard-working, useful citizen, spending his life in hammering holes in anything that appears to need a hole in it. Yet he is neither morose nor unsocial. There is a vein of humor in him, a large reserve of mirth and jollity. We see little of it except in the spring, and then for a time all the laughter in him bubbles up; he becomes uproarious in his glee, and the melody which he cannot vent in song he works out in the channels of his trade, filling the woodland with loud and harmonious rappings. Above all other birds he is the friend of man, and deserves to have the freedom of the fields.


Lee’s Addition:

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) by J Fenton

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) by J Fenton

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: (Colossians 1:16 KJV)

This is Chapter I from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

“Most species possess predominantly white, black, brown, green, and red plumage, although many piculets show a certain amount of grey and olive green. In woodpeckers, many species exhibit patches of red and yellow on their heads and bellies, and these bright areas are important in signaling. The dark areas of plumage are often iridescent. Although the sexes of Picidae species tend to look alike, many woodpecker species have more prominent red or yellow head markings in males than in females.”

“Members of the family Picidae have strong bills for drilling and drumming on trees and long sticky tongues for extracting food. Woodpecker bills are typically longer, sharper and stronger than the bills of piculets and wrynecks; however their morphology is very similar. The bill’s chisel-like tip is kept sharp by the pecking action in birds that regularly use it on wood. Species of woodpecker and flicker that use their bills in soil or for probing as opposed to regular hammering tend to have longer and more decurved bills. Due to their smaller bill size, many piculets and wrynecks will forage in decaying wood more often than woodpeckers. The long sticky tongues, which possess bristles, aid these birds in grabbing and extracting insects deep within a hole of a tree. It had been reported that the tongue was used to spear grubs, but more detailed studies published in 2004 have shown that the tongue instead wraps around the prey before being pulled out.”

“Woodpeckers, piculets and wrynecks all possess zygodactyl feet. Zygodactyl feet consist of four toes, the first (hallux) and the fourth facing backward and the second and third facing forward. This foot arrangement is good for grasping the limbs and trunks of trees. Members of this family can walk vertically up a tree trunk, which is beneficial for activities such as foraging for food or nest excavation. In addition to the strong claws and feet, woodpeckers have short strong legs. This is typical of birds that regularly forage on trunks. The tails of all woodpeckers except the piculets and wrynecks are stiffened, and when the bird perches on vertical surfaces, the tail and feet work together to support it.” (Wikipedia)

See:

Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Falling Plates

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