The Bird Book/Woodpeckers

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The Bird Book by Chester A. Reed
Woodpeckers: Family Picidae


Woodpeckers are well known birds having sharp chisel-like bills, sharply pointed and stiffened tail feathers, and strongly clawed feet with two toes forward and two back, except in one genus. Their food is insects and grubs,

which they get by boring in trees, and from under the bark, clinging to the sides of trunks or the under side of branches with their strong curved nails, aided by the tail, for a prop. They are largely resident where found.

Texas King-fisher

392. IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER. Campephilus principalis.

Range. Locally distributed, and rare, in Florida, along the Gulf coast and north casually to South Carolina and Arkansas.

This is the largest of the Woodpeckers found within our borders, being 20 inches in length. But one other American species exceeds it in size, the Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico, which reaches a length of nearly two feet; as this species is found within a few miles of our Mexican border, it may yet be classed as a North American bird. The present species has a large, heavy, ivory-white bill. They can readily be identified, at a great distance, from the Pileated Woodpecker by the large amount of white on the secondaries. They used to be not uncommonly seen in many sections of the southeast but are now found very locally and only in the largest and remote woods. They nest in holes in large trees in the most impenetrable swamps; laying three, and probably as six pure white glossy eggs measuring 1.45 x 1.00.



Hairy Woodpecker



Dryobates villosus villosus. Range. United States east of the Plains and from North Carolina to Canada.

The Hairy Woodpecker or its sub-species is found in all parts of North America. The nesting habits and eggs of all the sub-species are not in any way different from those of the eastern bird, consequently what is said in reSard to the eastern form will apply equally to all its varieties.

Except during the winter months, this species is not as commonly seen about houses or orchards as the Downy Wodpecker. During the summer they retire to the larger woods to nest, laying their eggs in holes in the trunks or White

limbs of trees at any height from the ground, and generally using the same hole year after year, and often twice or three times during one season, if the first sets are taken. They lay from three to six glossy white eggs ; size .95 x .70. This species can be distinguished from the Downy Woodpeckers by their larger size (9 inches long), and the white outer tail feathers, which are unspotted.

393a. NORTHERN HAIRY WOODPECKER. Dryobates villosus leucomelas. Range. North America, north of the United States. Slightly larger than the preceding.

3931). SOUTHERN HAIRY WOODPECKER. Dryobates villosus auduboni. Range. Southern United States; north to South Carolina. Similar to the Hairy Woodpecker, but smaller.

393c. HARRIS'S WOODPECKER. Dryobates villosus harrisi.

Range. Pacific coast from California to British Columbia.

Similar to the Hairy but with fewer or no white spots on the wing coverts, and grayish on the underparts.


Dryobates villosus hyloscopus.

Range. Southern California, east to Arizona and south into Mexico. Like the preceding but whiter below.

393e ROCKY MOUNTAIN HAIRY WOODPECKER. Dryobates villosus monticola.

Range. Rocky Mountains from British Columbia south to New Mexico.

Similar to liarrisi but slightly larger and pure white below.

393f. QUEEN CHARLOTTE WOODPECKER. Dryobates villosus picoideus.

Range. Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. Like Harris Woodpecker, but with the flanks streaked and the middle pf the back spotted with blackish. 393c 394a



394. SOUTHERN DOWNY WOODPECKER. Dryobates pubescens pubescens.

Range. Gulf and South Atlantic States; north to South Carolina.

This species, which is the smallest of the North American Woodpecker (length 6 inches), is similar in plumage to the Hairy Woodpecker, but has the ends of the white, outer tail feathers spotted with black. Like the last species, it is represented by sub-species in all parts of North X America, the nesting habits \ of all the varieties being the same and the eggs not distinguishable from one another. They nest in holes in trees, very often in orchards or trees in the neighborhood of houses. They are not nearly as shy as the Hairy Woodpeckers, and also associate with other birds very freely. The three to six eggs are laid upon the bottom of the cavity, with no lining. The height of the nesting season is during May or June. The white glossy eggs are .75 x .60.

white, glossy

Southern Downy

394a. GAIRDNER'S WOODPECKER. Dryobates. pubescens gairdneri.

Range. Pacific coast from northern California to British Columbia.

This sub-species is like the last, but is without spots on the wing coverts and is a dingy white below, differing the same as Harris Woodpecker from the Hairy.

394b. BATCHELDER'S WOODPECKER. Dryobates pubescens homorus. Range. Rocky Mountain region of the United States. Like the last but whiter below.

394c. DOWNY WOODPECKER. Dryobates pubescens medianus.

Range. North America, east of the Plains and north of South Carolina. Similar to the southern variety but slightly larger and whiter.

394d. NELSON'S DOWNY WOODPECKER. Dryobates 'pubescens nelsoni. Range. Alaska. Similar to the northern variety but still larger.

394e. WILLOW WOODPECKER. Dryobates pubescens turati.

Range. California except the northern parts and the ranges of the south. Similar to Gairdner Woodpecker, but smaller and whiter.

395. RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER. Dryobates borealis.

Range. Southeastern United States, from South Carolina and Arkansas, southward.

This black and white species may be known from any other because of the uniform black crown and nape, the male having a small dot of red on either side of the crown, back of the eye. They are quite abundant in ttie Gulf States and Florida, where they nest during April and May, and in some localities in March. They build in hollow trees or stumps at an elevation from the ground, laying from three to six glgssy white eggs; size .95 x .70.




Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Texas Woodpecker


Dryobates scalaris bairdi.

Range. Southwestern United States from southern Colorado south to northern Mexico. This species is brownish white below, has the back barred with black and white, and the male has the whole crown red, shading into mixed black and whitish on the forehead. Its habits and nesting are just the same as those of the Downy, but the three or four white eggs, that they lay in April, are larger; size .80 x .65.

396a. SAN LUCAS WOODPECKER. Dryobates scalaris lucasanus.

Range. Lower California, north to the Colorado Desert, California.

Very similar to the last; less barring on the outer tail feathers. Eggs the same.

397. NUTTALI/S WOODPECKER. Dryobates nuttalli. Range. Pacific coast from Oregon south to Lower California.

Similar to the Texan Woodpecker but whiter below, with whitish nasal tufts, and the fore part of the crown black and white striped, the red being confined to the nape region. They nest in holes in trees, either in dead stumps or in growing trees, and at any height above ground. During April or May they deposit their white glossy eggs upon the bottom of the cavity. The eggs measure .85 x .65.

398. ARIZONA WOODPECKER. Dryobates arizonce. Range. Mexican border of the United States, chiefly in

Arizona and New Mexico.

This species is entirely different from any others of our Woodpeckers, being uniform brownish above, and soiled whitish below, spotted with black. The male bird has a red crescent on the nape. They are said to be fairly abundant in some sections of southern Arizona. Their nesting habits do not vary from those of the other Woodpeckers found in the same regions, and they show no especial preference for any particular kind of a tree in which to lay their eggs. The nesting season appears to be at its height in April. The pure white eggs average in size about .85x.60.



399- WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER. Xenopicus albolarvatus.

Range. Western United States from southern California to southern British Columbia.

This odd species is wholly a dull black color, except for the white head and neck, and basal half of the primaries. They are quite abundant in some localities, particularly in California on mountain ranges. They nest at any height, but the greater number have been found under twenty feet from the ground and in old pine White stubs. They lay from four

to six glossy white eggs,

measuring .95 x .70. They are said to be more silent than others of the Woodpecker family, and rarely make the familiar tapping and never drum. It is claimed that they get at their food by scaling bark off the trees, instead of by boring.



Three-toed Woodpecker Arctic Three-toe^ Woodpecker


As implied by their name, members of this genus have but three toes, two in front and one behind. The plumage of this species is entirely black above, and whitish below, with the flanks barred with blackish. The male has a yellow patch on the crown. They breed abundantly in coniferous forests in mountainous regions throughout their range, laying their eggs in cavities in decayed stumps and trees, apparently at any height, from five feet up. The eggs are laid in May or June. Size .95 x .70.


401. THREE-TOED WOODPECKER. Picoides americanus americanus.

Range. Northern parts of the United States north to the Arctic regions.

Range. From northern United States northward. ,

The chief difference between this species and the last is in the white on the back, either as a patch or in the form of broken bars. The nesting habits are just the same and the eggs cannot be distinguished from those of the preceding. Both forms are found breeding in the same localities in the Adirondacks and in nearly all other portions of their range.



401a. ALASKA THREE-TOED WOODPECKER. Picoides americanus fasciatus.

Range. Alaska, south to British Columbia and Washington.

Like the last, but with more white on the back. Eggs like the arcticus.

401b. ALPINE THREE-TOED WOODPECKER. Picoides americanus dorsalis.

Range. Rocky Mountains from British Columbia south to New Mexico.

Slightly larger than the preceding and with more white on the back, almost entirely losing the barred effect of the American Three-toed variety. They nest chiefly in dead pines, laying four or five white eggs that cannot be distinguished from those of many other species. Size .95 x .70.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 402. YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER. Sphyra

picus varius varius.

Range. North America, east of the Plains; breeding from Massachusetts northward, and wintering from the Carolinas and Illinois southward.

This species is one of the most handsomely marked of the family; they can easily be recognized by the red crown and throat (white on the female), each bordered by black, and the yellowish underparts. The members of this genus have been found to be the only ones thai are really injurious, and these only to a slight extent, to cui- /-"^ tivated trees. This species and the two following are the only / ' ; real "sapsuckers," a crime that is often attributed to the most fffc useful of the family. Their nesting season is during May and June, they then resorting to the interior of the woods, where they deposit their four to seven glossy eggs on the bottom of holes in trees, generally at quite an elevation from the ground. Size of eggs .85 x .60. White

402a. RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER. Sphyrapicus varius nuchalis.

Range. Rocky Mountain region of the United States and southern Canada south to Mexico and west to California.

This variety differs from the last, chiefly in addition of a band of scarlet on the nape in place of the white on the Yellow-bellied species. Coming as it does, midway between the ranges of the preceding species and the following, this variety, with its extension of red on the head and throat, may be regarded somewhat as a connecting link between the two species, but it is perfectly distinct and does not intergrade with either. There appears to be no difference in the nesting habits of the two varieties, except that the present one, according to Bendire, shows a preference to nesting in live aspens. The eggs measure .90 x .65.



403. RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER. Sphyrapicus ruber ruber.

Range. Pacific Coast from Lower California to Oregon.

Except for a whitish line from the eye to the bill, the entire head, neck and breast of this species is red, of varying shades in different individuals, from carmine to nearly a scarlet; the remainder of their plumage is very similar to that of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. This is an abundant species and in most parts of the range they are not timid. Like many of the Woodpeckers, they spend a great deal of their time in drumming on some dead limb. They nest commonly in aspens, preferably living ones, and are said to build a new nesting hole each year rather than use the old. The eggs are laid during May or June, being glossy white, five to seven in number, and measuring .90 x .70.

Pileated Woodpecker

403a. NORTHERN RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKE. Sphyrapicus ruber notkensis.

Range. Pacific coast from California to Alaska.

404. WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER. Sphyrapicus thyroideus.

This is a deeper and brighter variety, and is more yellowish on the belly. Its nesting habits and eggs are the same as those of the southern form.

Range. Mountain ranges from the Rockies to the Pacific; north to British Columbia.

This oddly marked species shows a surprising number of variations in plumage; the normal adult male is largely black on the upper parts and breast, with only a narrow patch of red on the throat, and with the belly, bright yellow. The female is entirely different in plumage and for a long time was supposed to be a distinct species; she is brownish in place of the black in the male, has no red in the plumage, and is barred with black and white on the back and wings. They nest at high altitudes in mountain ranges, either in coniferous forests or in aspens. There is no peculiarity in their nesting habits; they lay from four to seven eggs, glossy white. Size .97 x .67.

405. PILEATED WOODPECKER. Phlceotomus pileatus pileatus.

Range. Southern and South Atlantic States.

This heavily built Woodpecker is nearly as large as the Ivory-bill, being 17 inches in length. They are not nearly as beautiful as the Ivory-bills, their plumage being a sooty black instead of glossy, and the white on the wing, being confined to a very small patch at the base of the primaries; the whole crown and crest are vermillion, as is also a moustache mark in the male. They breed in the most heavily timbered districts, and generally at a high elevation; excavating a cavity sometimes 25 inches in depth and eight inches in diameter. In most localities they are very shy and difficult to approach. During April or May they lay from three to six white eggs. Size 1.30 x 1.00.




Williamson Sapsucker Northern Pileated Woodpecker

405a. NORTHERN PILEATED WOODPECKER. Phlceotomus pileatus abieticola.

Range. Local throughout North America, from the northern parts of the United States northward.

This variety is only very slightly larger than the preceding, it otherwise being the same. It is still abundant in many localities, but its range is rapidly being reduced, on account of cutting away the forests. Its nesting habits and eggs are the same as those of the southern variety.

406. RED-HEADED WOODPECKER. Melanerpes ery throe ephalus.

Range. United States, east of the Rockies, except New England; north to northern Canada; winters in southern United States.

This beautiful species has a bright red head, neck and breast, glossy blue black back, wings and tail, and white underparts, rump and secondaries. It is the most abundant of the family in the greater portion of its range, where it nests in any kind of trees or in telegraph poles at any height from the ground; they also sometimes nest in holes under the eaves of buildings. They are the most pugnacious of the Woodpeckers, and are often seen chasing one another or driving away some other bird. They are also known


to destroy the nests and eggs of many species, and also to kill and devour the young, they being the only Woodpecker, so far as known, to have acquired this disreputable habit; they also feed upon, besides ants and larvae, many kinds of fruit and berries. Their nesting season is during May and June, when they lay from four to eight white eggs, with less gloss than those of the Flicker. Size 1.00 x .75.


Melanerpes formicivorus formicivorus.

Range. Mexican border of the United States, southward.

This species may be identified by the black region around the base of the bill, the white forehead, red crown and nape, yellowish throat, and blackish upper parts, extending in a band across the breast, this variety having the band streaked with white posteriorly. The habits of this variety are the same as the next which is most abundant in the United States.


Red-headed Woodpecker



Melanerpes formicivorus bairdi.

Range. California and Oregon.

This bird differs from the last in having fewer white stripes in the black breast band. In suitable localities, this is the most abundant of Woodpeckers on the Pacific coast. They have none of the bad habits of the Red-heads, appear to be sociable among their kind, and are not afraid of mankind. It nests indifferently in all kinds of trees at any height from the ground, laying from three to seven eggs. Size 1.00 x .75. This species has the habit of storing food for future use developed to a greater extent than any other of the family. They sometimes completely honeycomb the exterior surface of decayed trees, with holes designed to hold acorns.


Melanerpes formicivorus angustifrons

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Range. Southern Lower California.

This variety differs from the others in being slightly smaller and in having the white band on the forehead narrower. Its nesting habits are the same, but the eggs average smaller. Size .95 x .75.

408. LEWIS'S WOODPECKER. Asyndesmus lewisi.

Range. Western United States from the Rockies to the Pacific coast; from British Columbia south to Mexico.

A very oddly colored species, 11 inches in length having a dark red face, streaked red and white under parts, a gray breast band, and glossy greenish black upperparts. They are not uncommon in the greater part of their range, can not be called shy birds, and nest in all kinds of trees at heights varying from six to one hundred feet from the ground, the five to nine white eggs measuring 1.05 x .80, and being laid during May or June. White

109. RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER. Centurus carolinus.

Range. United States east of the Plains, breeding from the Gulf States north in nearly all parts of their range, frequenting the more heavily timbered regions, where they nest in any place that attracts their fancy; in some localities they also commonly nest in telegraph poles. They are quite tame, and during the winter months come about yards and houses, the same as, and often in company with Downy Woodpeckers. Their eggs, which are laid during May, are glossy white, average in size 1.00 x .75 and number from four to six.




410. GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER. Centurus aurifrons.

Range. Mexico and southern Texas, resident.

This is also one of the "zebra" or "ladderbacked" Woodpeckers, having the back and wings closely barred with black and white, the same as the preceding; the forehead, nasal tufts and nape are golden yellow, and the male has a patch of red on the crown. This is a very common resident species in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where it nests in trees or telegraph poles, sometimes so numerously in the latter situations as to become a nuisance. Their nesting habits are not in any manner peculiar, and the eggs cannot be distinguished from those of the preceding. Size 1.00 x .75. Laid during April and May.


Centurus uropygialis.

Range. Mexican border of the United States, in southern Arizona and New Mexico.

Like the preceding but without any yellow on the head, the male having a red patch in the center of the crown. They are locally distributed in New Mexico, but appear to be abundant in all parts of southern Arizona, where they nest principally in giant cacti, but also in many other trees such as cottonwoods, mesquite, sycamores, etc. Besides their decided preference for giant cacti, there is nothing unusual in their nesting habits, and the eggs are not different from those of others of the genus. They lay from three to six eggs in April or May. Size 1.00 x .75.

408 411

412. FLICKER. Colaptes auratus auratus.

Range. Southeastern United States.

Flickers are well known, large Woodpeckers (13 inches long), with a brownish tone to the plumage, barred on the back and spotted on the breast with black. The present species has a golden yellow lining to the wings and tail, and the shafts of the feathers are yellow; it has a red crescent on the nape, and the male has black moustache marks. This species and its sub-variety are the most widely known Woodpeckers in eastern North America, where they are known in different localities, by something like a hundred local names, of which




Pigeon Woodpecker and Yellow-hammer seem to be the most universal. They have the undulating flight common to all Woodpeckers and show the white rump patch conspicuously when flying. They are often found on the ground in pastures or on side hills, feeding upon ants; they are more terrestrial than any others of the family. They nest anywhere, where they can find or make a suitable cavity for the reception of their eggs; in trees in woods or solitary trees in large pastures, in apple trees in orchards, in fence posts, in holes under the roofs of buildings, etc. They ordinarily lay from five to ten very glossy eggs, but it has been found that they will continue laying, if one egg is removed from the nest at a time, until in one case seventy-one eggs were secured. Fresh eggs may be found at any time from May until August, as they frequently raise two broods a season. Size of eggs, 1.10 x .90 with considerable variations.

412a. NORTHERN P'LICKER. tus luteus.

Colaptes aura

Northern Flicker

Range. Whole of North America, east of the Rockies, except the southeastern portion.

Averaging larger than the preceding, but individual specimens of the northern variety are frequently found to be even smaller than the southern, and vice versa, making the distinction one of the study rather than Nature.

413. RED-SHAFTED FLICKER. Colaptes cafer collaris.

Range. United States west of the Rockies.

This species is marked similarly to the preceding, but the top of the head is brownish instead of gray, and the underparts of the wings and tail, and their quills are reddish. Neither sex has the red crescent on the back of the head, except in the case of hybrids between the 'two species, but the male has I red moustache marks. \* j

There are no differences in the nidification between this species and the preceding, but the White

eggs of this average a trifle larger (1.15x.90).

41 3a. NORTHWESTERN FLICKER. Colaptes cafer saturatior.

Range. Pacific coast, breeding from Oregon to Alaska.

This is a much darker variety of the Red-shafted Flicker, but its nesting habits or eggs do not differ in any way.


Red-shafted Flicker




414. GILDED FLICKER. Colaptes chrysoides.

Range. Arizona and southward through Mexico to southern Lower California.

This pale species has the yellowish lining to the wings and tail as in the Flicker, but has a pale cinnamon brown crown, no crescent on back of head, and the male has red moustache marks. It is a common species in all localities where the giant cactus abounds, and shows a preference to nesting in these strange growths, to any other trees. Their habits are, in all respects, the same as those of the other Flickers and their eggs cannot be distinguished. Size 1.10 x .90.

414a. SAN FERNANDO FLICKER. Colaptes chrysoides brunnescens.

Range. Northern Lower California.

This is a slightly smaller and darker variety of the Gilded Flicker.

415. GUADALUPE FLICKER. Colaptes rufipileus.

Range. Guadalupe Island.

Similar to the Red-shafted Flicker, but with the crown darker and the rump a solid pinkish white. They are common in a large cypress grove in the middle of the island, but rarely found on any other portions. The eggs have been described by Mr. Walter E. Bryant, who found them breeding on the island, to be indistinguishable from those of the others of the genus.