Birds Vol 1 #4 – The California Woodpecker

California Woodpecker for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

California Woodpecker for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. April, 1897 No. 4



I may not be as pretty a bird as my red-headed cousin but I’m just as busy. My home is in the west among the pines on the mountains. I do not visit the east at all.

Of course I like insects and fruits just as my relations do, but I like best to eat acorns. You know, if I left the acorns on the trees and just got enough to eat at one time, after a while I would have a hard time finding any. They would drop off and roll away and get lost among the leaves and grasses. What would you do if you were I?

I have a very sharp bill, you see. So I can peck and peck at the tree until I have made a hole which will hold an acorn. Sometimes I fill my store house quite full in this way. You can see how they look in the picture. When I want to get at the meat in the acorn I drive the nut into a crack and split the shell. Then I have my breakfast easily enough.

Some of the other birds like acorns too—but I think they should find and store away their own and not try to take mine. I do not like to quarrel and so have many friends.

Then I have my nest to look after. I make it as my cousin does, by digging into a tree, first a passage way or hall—then a living-room. There are the four or five white eggs and there too soon are the little baby-birds to be taken care of. Now, have I not a great deal of work? Do you not think I am quite as busy as my cousin?

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) by Raymond Barlow

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) by Raymond Barlow



HIS fine specimen of the Woodpecker is by far the most sociable representative of the family in the United States, and it is no unusual occurrence to see half a dozen or more in a single tree. It is also a well disposed bird, and seldom quarrels or fights with its own kind, or with smaller birds, but it attacks intruders on its winter stores with such vigor and persistence that they are compelled to vacate the premises in a hurry. Its manner of flight and call notes closely resemble those of the Red-Headed Woodpecker, and, like it, it loves to cling to some dead limb near the top of a tree and drum for hours at a time. It is one of the most restless of birds, and never appears to be at a loss for amusement, and no other bird belonging to this family could possibly be more industrious.

During the Spring and Summer its food consists, to some extent, of insects, including grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and flies—varied with cherries, apples, figs, berries and green corn. Acorns form its principal food during the greater portion of the year. Of these it stores away large numbers in the thick bark of pines, in partly rotten limbs of oak trees, telegraph poles, and fence posts. A writer in the “Auk” says of its habits: “It is essentially a bird of the pines, only occasionally descending to the cotton woods of low valleys. The oaks, which are scattered through the lower pine zone, supply a large share of its food. Its habit of hoarding food is well known, and these stores are the source of unending quarrels with its numerous feathered enemies. I have laid its supplies under contribution myself, when short of provisions and lost from the command on which I had been traveling, by filling my saddlebags with half-dried acorns from under the loose bark of a dead pine.”

The California Woodpecker is found in western Mexico, northern Lower California, and north through California into western Oregon. So far as is known the eastern limit of its range is the Santa Fe Mountains.

Its nest is usually from fifteen to twenty-five feet from the ground, excavated on the side of a branch of a good sized oak or sycamore. Breeding commences in April or May, according to locality. Both sexes assist in the excavation. The entrance hole is about one and three-fourths inches in diameter, perfectly circular, and is sometimes chiseled through two or three inches of solid wood before the softer and decayed core is reached. The inner cavity is greatly enlarged as it descends, and varies from eight to twenty-four inches in depth. The eggs rarely exceed four or five, and are pure white in color.

The most remarkable fact concerning this species is the peculiar manner in which it stores acorns. The thick bark of large sugar and other pines has been seen completely riddled with small holes. A section of a partly decayed oak limb, three feet two inches long and five and one-half inches in diameter, contained 255 holes. Each hole is intended to hold a single acorn. The acorns fit quite accurately, are driven in point foremost, and are not readily extracted. Sweet acorns are selected. To get at their contents the acorns are carried to a convenient tree where a limb has been broken off, driven into a suitable crevice, split open, and the outer hull removed. Truly the California Woodpecker is no idler or bungler, nor is he a free-booter, like the noisy, roystering Jay. He makes an honest living, and provides for the evil day which comes alike to man and beast.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) by Reinier Munguia

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) by Reinier Munguia

Lee’s Addition:

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26 NKJV)

Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler, Provides her supplies in the summer, And gathers her food in the harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8 NKJV)

Wise people store up knowledge, But the mouth of the foolish is near destruction. The rich man’s wealth is his strong city; The destruction of the poor is their poverty. The labor of the righteous leads to life, The wages of the wicked to sin. (Proverbs 10:14-16 NKJV)

The adult Acorn Woodpecker  (Melanerpes formicivorus) is a medium-sized woodpecker and has a brownish-black head, back, wings and tail, white forehead, throat, belly and rump. The eyes are white.There is a small part on the small of their backs were there are some green feathers. The adult male has a red cap starting at the forehead, whereas females have a black area between the forehead and the cap. The white neck, throat and forehead patches are distinctive identifiers.When flying,they take a few flaps of their wings and drop a foot or so.You can see white circles on the wings while flying. Acorn woodpeckers have a call that is almost like they are laughing.

The breeding habitat is forested areas with oaks in the hills of coastal areas and foothills of California and the southwestern United States south to Colombia. Acorn woodpeckers, as their name implies, depend heavily on acorns for food. In some parts of their range (e.g., California), the woodpeckers create granaries or “acorn trees” by drilling holes in dead trees, dead branches, telephone poles and wooden buildings. The woodpeckers then collect acorns and find a hole that is just the right size for the acorn. As acorns dry out, they are moved to smaller holes and granary maintenance requires a significant amount of the bird’s time. They also feed on insects, sap, and fruit.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) with Hoard or Grainary WikiC

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) with Hoard or Grainary WikiC

This bird is a permanent resident throughout its range. They may relocate to another area if acorns are not readily available. It is sedentary and very sociable. Acorn Woodpeckers like many other species are threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Competition for nest cavities by non-native species is an ongoing threat in urbanized areas. These include mature forests with oaks capable of producing large mast crops and places for the woodpeckers to nest, roost, and store mast. Residents are encouraged to preserve mature oak and pine-oak stands of trees and to provide dead limbs and snags for nesting,roosting and granary sites to help preserve the Acorn Woodpeckers population.

Walter Lantz is believed to have patterned the call of his cartoon character Woody Woodpecker on that of the acorn woodpecker, while patterning his appearance on that of the Pileated Woodpecker which has a prominent crest.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae Family which includes  woodpeckers, piculets, wrynecks, and sapsuckers. The family has about 200 species.

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 April 1897 No 4 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial for February 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Piedbill Grebe

Previous Article – Bird Day In The Schools

ABC’s Of The Gospel


Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

Piciformes Order

Acorn WoodpeckerWhat Bird



Ian’s Bird Of The Week – Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii) by Ian

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Chestnut-mandibled Toucan ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 12/09/10

Guinness Toucan Poster from Ian

Guinness Toucan Poster from Ian

I think everybody, birders and non-birders, likes Toucans. They’re one of the iconic, almost cartoonish, animals that were introduced to as young children and I remember Toucans (and Gnus) featuring in posters for Guinness stout in Ireland in the 1950s. Their unbelievably large and colourful bills are so outlandish that it is a delightful shock to come across them in the flesh, particularly in the wild.

The Villa Lapas hotel where I stayed in the Pacific lowlands of Costa Rica had a rainforest canopy trail in its grounds and I checked it out one thundery and gloomy afternoon. The rain held off for most of the trek but, for the most part, the birds didn’t like the weather any more than I did and the light and the dense foliage made it hard to see much less photograph anything. However, repeated raucous calls led me to a pair of Chestnut-mandibled Toucans perched high in an unusually open tree. They proved to be very shy, fell silent as soon as I appeared and flew off into the forest giving me time to take only a few photos. With a length to 61cm/24in, the Chestnut-mandibled is the largest Toucan in Costa Rica. Its range includes most of Central America and Northern South America from Honduras to Ecuador.

Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus) by Ian

Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus) by Ian

Toucans use their large bills to collect fruit, but will also feed on nestlings. The structure of the bill is a honeycomb, so it quite light and not particularly strong. Its function has attracted a lot of speculation from reaching fruit, signalling and defence and the latest theory is that it is used as heat exchanger for cooling. The colours vary widely from species to species, supporting its use for species identification but they don’t vary either between the sexes or seasonally. There are about a dozen species of large toucan (genus Ramphastos) and the toucan family (Ramphastidae) includes smaller ones such as Mountain-Toucans (Andigena), Toucanets (Selenidera) and Araçaris (Peteroglossus). All of these are restricted to Central and South America but the related Barbets occur also in Africa and Eurasia. If you are interested in examples of these, have a look at:

Recent milestone on the website are totals of 5,600 photos and 1,300 species. Additions to the website since last week include more photos of American waders such as:

American Avocet

Black-necked Stilt


and Least Sandpiper

Best wishes,


Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,

454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818

Phone: +61-7 4751 3115

Preferred Email:


Lee’s Addition:

Wow! What a milestone. Way to go Ian. Hope he doesn’t mind, but I inserted one of his photos of a toucanet. Check out Ian’s link above of the Ramphastidae Family.

Gracie the retired Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii)

Gracie the retired Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii)

We were able to meet and pet “Gracie” at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA this summer. She is also a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. Her beak as you can see is showing her age. She is retired now and is well cared for. Like Ian said, “I think everybody, birders and non-birders, likes Toucans.” I definitely think they are very neat.

Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it. (Daniel 4:12 ESV)

The Toucans, as Ian said, are found in the Ramphastidae Family. At present, there are 47 species in the family. They are part of the Piciformes Order which contains the Woodpeckers and their allies.

(Editor’s note – not advocating or advertising Guinnes) *