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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 27


DOWNY WOODPECKER.                    27
reascended the stairs I heard him again hard at work, and, on en-
tering, had the mortification to perceive that he had almost entirely
ruined the mahogany table to which he was fastened, and on which
he had wreaked his whole vengeance. While engaged in taking
the drawing, he cut me severely in several places, and on the whole
displayed such a noble and unconquerable spirit, that I was fre-
quently tempted to restore him to his native woods. He lived with
me nearly three days, but refused all sustenance, and I witnessed
his death with regret."
The Downy Woodpecker. (Picus Pucescens.)
Fig. 2.
This really beautiful little Woodpecker is, in several of the West-
ern States, called the Sapsucker, perhaps from his habit of boring
several rows of holes around a tree, one above another, at almost
regular distances apart. The question might be asked for what
purpose should he bore through the apparently healthy bark of a
tree, if not in order to obtain the sap. But the little bird knows
better for what purpose he does the work, as whenever he is seen
so engaged, we may rest assured that there is a grub-worm under
the bark, and the whole story of his sap-seeking is a mere figment
of the imagination. If he were seeking sap, he would certainly
prefer the juicy maple or birch to any other tree; but these are
seldom, or never, attacked by him, because there are hardly ever
any worms to be found under their rind.
Familiarity, diligence, perseverance, and a surprising strength
and energy in the head and neck, are the principal characteristics
of this frolicsome little bird. He may be seen sometimes for half
an hour at the same spot on an infested branch of an old apple-tree,
working incessantly until he succeeds in dislodging and destroying
the destructive brood of insects sheltered in the crevices between
the bark and the wood. When he is so engaged, you may approach
him pretty close, and stand within a few feet of him, directly under
the tree where he is working, without embarrassing him in the
least. Sometimes he will spend two hours on the same tree, all
the time at work, while the powerful and rapid strokes of his bill
can be distinctly heard at the distance of several yards.
His favorite haunts are the woods on the borders of streams, for-
ests, or single groves; but he is also often found, especially in fall
and winter, in our orchards and gardens. During the summer he
keeps company only with his own kind, and moves about in a com-
paratively small district; but in the fall and winter, he is generally
found in company with other birds, as the Titmouse, Nuthatch,
Creeper, and Golden-crested Wren. In both his wood and orchard
excursions, he usually leads the van; but he is never much inclined
to be amiable toward his companions of other kinds, nor does he
take any notice of them, a disposition that seems to be the result
of a mere desire for food. He will, for the same reason, come to
the spot, when, by beating on a dry limb, you have imitated his
drumming. This desire for food will make him believe that
another of his kind, whom he is not much inclined to favor, has
had better luck than he. In his ramblings he avoids, like the
Hairy Woodpecker, flying across open plains, and as the sole
object of his ramblings is to find more plentiful food, he does not
regard roundabout ways. He is very lively, always in motion,
and seemingly always in a hurry to get through with what he is
engaged in, and contributes, by this and his thin but shrill voice,
"zkrick, krick, krick," or "tick, tick, tick," a great
deal to enliven
the forest, especially a dark pine-forest, in the most pleasant man-
ner. His flight is by starts, swift and whirring, but not far
extended. When seen on the ground, which seldom happens, he
performs his hopping with great care. He prefers to sit on the
highest branches of a tree, uttering his lively "'krick, krick,
krick," which he frequently repeats. When he flies off, or alights
on another tree, he utters a rather shriller cry, consisting of the
same notes, quickly reiterated. For the night's rest he retires to a
hollow tree, and conceals himself also in such a place when he is
wounded.
It is very amusing to observe this Woodpecker at the time of
mating. At that time he is peculiarly lively, and usually two
males are seen paying court to one female, both flying very often
above the tree, and chasing each other around it. If one gets tired
of flying about, he suddenly lights on some dry withered branch,
and commences drumming for spite. Then the other male begins
the same operation, and this they keep up sometimes for hours.
As soon as one of them observes the female, who is never far off,
he leaves his place, flying toward her, and these two chase each
other round and round, uttering a strong "kack, kack, kack," or
IIkrick, krick, krick." As soon as the other male hears this he
appears on the scene, and the two males now chase the female, or
engage in a fight with each other. This amusement lasts till about
seven or eight o'clock in the evening, and is kept up till one of
them has become victorious in driving the other entirely away.
In making his nest-hole, this Woodpecker seems to be rather at
a loss how to proceed. He begins a great many excavations before
he finishes one, and always prefers to find, if possible, a hole in
which either he or some of his kindred have already reared their
young. About the middle of May the male and female begin to
look out for a suitable place for their eggs and young. Some
tree-generally an apple, pear, or cherry tree, often in the neigh-
borhood of a farm-house-is usually selected for this purpose. For
several days previous to beginning the operation of digging the
hole, the tree is minutely examined, and then the digging is com-
menced by the male, who excavates a circular opening, so per-
fectly circular that it seems as if it must have been marked out
with a pair of compasses. After he has wrought for a time, and
become tired, he is relieved by the female, and so both continue the
work with indefatigable diligence. The direction of the hole, if in
the trunk of a tree, is usually downward, in an oblique direction,
for a few inches, and then straight down for about eight or ten
inches more. Within it is roomy, capacious, and as smooth as if it
were made by a cabinet-maker. The entrance is just large enough
to admit the passage of the owners. The chips are carried out to
some distance, so as to conceal all traces of the nest. The opera-
tion of preparing the nest-hole occupies sometimes a whole week,
sometimes less. The female, before beginning to lay, visits the
hole often, minutely examining both the interior and exterior before
taking possession. As in the case of all Woodpeckers, there is no
regular nest; but a few fine sawdust-like chips are left at the bottom
of the hole as a substitute for a nest, and on these the female lays,
toward the latter part of May, generally six eggs, of a pure white
color. The male frequently supplies the female with food while
she is sitting. The young begin to make their appearance in the
latter part of June, when they may be seen leaving the hole,
making their way up the tree, and already climbing with great
dexterity. The little House Wren, who also builds his nests in
hollows in trees or cracks in walls, and who is, on account of the
formation of his bill, unable to build a nest-hole for himself, often
drives the Downy out of his home by the most violent attacks, and,
after succeeding, builds his nest in the ill-gotten premises.
The food of this species of Woodpecker, as with all other Wood-
peckers, consists chiefly of insects and their larvae. Besides these,
he regales himself with different kinds of fruits and berries; but'
his principal food is a kind of beetle that lays its eggs in cracks in
the bark of trees, its larva working or boring long and winding
burrows under the bark close to the wood. In order to reach these,
our little Woodpecker works very hard, and on pine-trees he strips
off the bark in large quantities; but he never strips it off from a
healthy pine-tree, and only from such as he is sure are infested
with grub-worms. He destroys an immense number of caterpillars,
which he uses as food for his young. He has also this peculiarity,
like others of this g- oup of birds, that, when he has hammered or
drummed on a dead limb, he will, on a sudden, run to the opposite
side to look after beetles or worms, which he may have started, and
DOWNY WOODPECKER.
27


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