Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/355

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WOODPECKERS AND THEIR WAYS.

planted, as a wide knowledge and a deeper love show such changes to be wise. But every detail of method has the one purpose, and this never changes — the unfolding and the perfecting of human nature. It is the search for human power through the perfecting of the human organism.

 
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WOODPECKERS AND THEIR WAYS.
By WILLIAM EVERETT CRAM.

WOODPECKERS as a class form one of the most striking and easily distinguished groups of birds, the entire family conforming to a certain type to a remarkable degree. Probably each of the three hundred species could be safely described as a vigorous, muscular, heavy-bodied bird, with long wings, close-fitting plumage, and a strong, stiletto-shaped beak. Their legs and feet, like those of the parrots, cuckoos, etc., formerly placed in the same order, are short and stout, with the outer toe turned backward parallel with the hind toe as an aid in climbing. In certain species, however, this outer toe is entirely wanting.

Their peculiar method of gaining a livelihood has developed a tongue perfectly adapted to their requirements; it is pointed and barbed at the tip for securing the larger insects, and is kept constantly coated with a mucous substance to which the smaller ones adhere. At the back of the mouth it divides, and passing each side of the neck at the base of the skull is carried up over the top of the head, where the two portions join and are inserted in the right nostril. In the common hairy woodpecker, and possibly some others, it curves downward, and is wound about the bony case which protects the right eye, the latter projecting more than the left for its accommodation. This double bow enables the bird to shoot forward and contract the barbed tip with wonderful velocity, while the mucus is applied each time from two large glands at each side of the throat.

In the autumn, when the last generation of aphides spreads itself over every leaf and twig in the forest, woodpeckers may frequently be seen engaged to all appearances in licking up these diminutive insects from their resting places, their long tongues giving them a decided advantage over other birds in this pursuit, for woodpeckers are not the only birds that find aphides palatable in spite of their small size — not only the warblers, but purple finches and others, generally supposed to be fruit-eaters, apparently depending to a certain extent on this delicate fare.

The family colors are black and white and red in sharply contrasting patterns, though some members of the group that have