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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
(1903)

Plate XXVI. The ivory-billed woodpecker. (Campephilus Principalis.),   pp. 25-28


Page 26


IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER.
the whole day, with the exception of the little intervals when he.
flies from one place to another. This habit often leads to his
destruction, and, as he is everywhere regarded as a destroyer of
trees, his extermination is eagerly sought. To this it may be added
that the beautiful feathers of his crest are used by Indians for war
ornaments, and large numbers of the birds are killed to obtain their
feathers. I have seen Indian warriors with their girdles and the
tops of their quivers ornamented alternately with the crests and the
bills of this Woodpecker. Indian women also use the crests for
ornaments.
Wherever the Ivory-billed frequents, he leaves behind him many
mementos of his industry. In such places may be seen gigantic
pine-trees, with cart-loads of bark and chips lying around them on
the ground, impressing one with the idea that half a dozen wood-
cutters must have been at work there for at least half the day.
This is all the work of our Ivory-billed Woodpecker, as well as
the numerous large excavations with which the trunk of the tree is
disfigured. This gives an idea what destroyers of the most useful
of our forest trees these Woodpeckers, endowed with so much
strength and with such an apparatus for doing work, would neces-
sarily be if they were numerous. On the other hand, however, I
may say that hundreds of such trees, on which the Ivory-billed had
been at work, were closely examined by me, with the conclusion
that neither mischief nor amusement was at the bottom of his pro-
ceedings. I never found a single sound and healthy tree attacked
by him; but close examination proved clearly that he selected trees
for stripping off the bark or excavating the trunks, which were
infested with insects and on the way to rapid decay. The deadly
crawling vermin form a lodgment under the bark of the trees, and
what the proprietor of the forest deplores as the destruction of his
timber is caused by their ravages. Hundreds and thousands of
pine-trees-many of them from two to three feet in diameter, and
over a hundred and fifty feet high-are destroyed in one season by
an insect, or rather by the larvae of an insect not larger than a
grain of rye. Large spaces covered with dead pine-trees, stripped
of their bark, their branches and bare trunks bleached by the rain
and the hot rays of the sun, and tumbling to ruin at every blast,
present to the beholder frightful pictures of desolation. Yet preju-
dice and ignorance stubbornly persist in condemning the Ivory-
billed as the destroyer of property, while he is really a benefactor,
as he is the constant and deadly enemy of those destructive insects.
We ought to be thankful to him, as he shows us by his work where
those vermin are causing a destruction in our forests. Until a more
effectual preventive of the ravages of these insects is found out and
applied, we ought to protect not only the Ivory-billed, but the whole
tribe of Woodpeckers.
Like other Woodpeckers, the Ivory-billed live usually in pairs;
at least until the young are old enough to take care of themselves,
and probably during life. The male and female are always seen
together; the latter being distinguished by having no red crest, but
with the whole head black, inclining to a greenish glass color, and
by being more clamorous, less shy, yet more cautious than the
male. The time of breeding begins earlier with them than with
Dther Woodpeckers, usually in the month of March. The nest is
generally built in a live tree, and at considerable height from the
ground-an ash or hagberry tree being preferred. As these birds
seek retirement and shelter from the access of water during violent
rain-storms, they are very particular as to the position of the tree
and the " boring" of their nest-hole. The latter is generally dug
immediately under the junction of a llrge branch with the trunk.
It is first bored for a few inches horizontally, and then downward in
a direct line, sometimes only a foot, and sometimes between one
and three feet deep. The difference in these depths of the nest-
hole may be the result of the more or less immediate necessity
under which the female may be of depositing her egg. The diam-
eter of the cavity of the nest is about eight or nine inches, and its
entrance just large enough to admit the passage of the bird. Both
male and female work at this excavation alternately. While the
one is at work, the other will sit outside, encouraging its mate with
its chatter. They never make a regular nest; but the bottom of
the cavity is bowl-shaped, and covered with a few small chips, like
coarse saw-dust. On this the eggs are deposited, usually five or
six in number, and of a clear white color. The young can be seen,
a couple of weeks before they are able to fly, creeping out of the
hole, and moving about, but returning to the nest again in case of
danger. The dress of the young is nearly like that of the female;
but later in the fall this difference vanishes. The young males
exhibit the beauty of their plumage in the next spring. After the
breeding season, the old pair retire for the night to their nest-hole
to sleep.
The food of the Ivory-billed consists chiefly of beetles or their
larva; but they also feed cmn different kinds of berries and fruits,
such as mellow persimmons or hagberries. They are particularly
fond of ripe wild grapes. I have noticed them, in company with
other birds, fluttering about and hanging on the vines in the manner
of the Titmouse. Although the Ivory-billed is sometimes seen at
work in corn-fields, on standing dry and withered trees, he never
meddles with the corn, or with any field or garden fruits. If
winged, he runs for the nearest tree in quick hops, and in almost
a twinkling he is out of reach, climbing spirally round the trunk,
uttering at each leap his "s pat, pat, pat," to the top, and there
squatting down under the protection of some branch, and keeping
perfectly silent. If mortally wounded, he clings to the bark of the
tree, and remains hanging there, often for hours after he is quite
dead. When the hunter takes him alive and lays hold of him by
the hand, he tries to use his bill in the best manner he can in his
defense, often inflicting very severe wounds. On such occasions
he utters a most piteous cry, not unlike that of a child. Wilson,
in his account of this Woodpecker, has the following:
" In looking over the accounts given of the Ivory-billed Wood-
pecker by naturalists of Europe, I find it asserted that it inhabits
from New Jersey to Mexico. I believe, however, that few of them
are ever seen to the north of Virginia, and very few of them even
in that State. The first place I observed this bird at when on my
way to the South, was about twelve miles north of Wilmington, in
North Carolina. There I found the bird from which my drawing
was taken. This bird was only wounded slightly in the wing, and
on being caught, uttered a loudly reiterated, and most piteous note,
exactly resembling the violent crying of a young child; which ter-
rified my horse so as nearly to have cost me my life. It was dis-
tressing to hear it. I carried it with me, in the chair, under cover
to Wilmington. In passing through the streets, its affecting cries
surprised every one within hearing, particularly the females, who
hurried to the doors and windows with looks of alarm and anxiety.
I drove on, and, on arriving at the piazza of the hotel where I
intended to put up, the landlord came forward, and a number of
other persons who happened to be there, all equally alarmed at
what they heard. This was greatly increased by my asking
whether he could furnish me with accommodations for myself and
my baby. The man looked blank and foolish, while the others
stared with still greater astonishment. After diverting myself for
a minute or two at their expense, I drew my Woodpecker from
under the cover, and a general laugh took place. I took him up
stairs and locked him up in my room, while I went to see my horse
taken care of. In less than an hour I returned, and on opening
the door, he set up the same distressing shout, which now appeared
to proceed from grief that he had been discovered in his attempts
at escape. He had mounted along the side of the window, nearly
as high as the ceiling, a little below which he had begun to break
through. The bed was covered with large pieces of plaster; the
lath was exposed for at least fifteen inches square, and a hole,
large enough to admit the fist, opened to the weatherboards; so
that, in less than another hour, he would certainly have succeeded
in making his way through. I now tied a string around his leg,
and, fastening it to the table, again left him. I wished to preserve
his life, and had gone off in search of suitable food for him. As I
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