Woodpecker, the common name of the very numerous scansorial or climbing birds of the family picidoe. The bill is long, straight, and wedge-shaped, with flattened and truncated tip, and sides more or less ridged; the toes are two before and two behind, with strong sharp claws, enabling them to run upon the branches of trees with great facility; the cervical vertebrae are 12, and greatly developed, the caudal usually 7, the last one very large and with a strong, ridge-like spinous process; the sternum has two excisions at the posterior margin on each side. The tongue has the horns of the hyoid bone greatly elongated posteriorly, extending around the back and over the top of the head, the anterior ends enveloped in a sheath in which they move freely, being attached in advance of the eyes, usually near the opening of the right nostril; these slender bows are accompanied by slips of muscle by whose contraction they are shortened, thrusting the tongue out far beyond the bill; another pair of muscles, folded around the upper part of the trachea and going forward to. the anterior part of the tongue, draw the organ in again; its surface is covered with a glutinous matter secreted by two large glands, whose ducts open near the point of the lower jaw, and furnish a fresh supply every time the tongue is drawn in; the tip is also horny, with several barbed filaments pointing backward to retain insects too large to be captured by the viscid secretion.
They are very active, living in woods and forests, continually tapping with the bill the surface of trees to discover soft and rotten places, in which are lurking the insects and the larvae on which they principally feed, and which they obtain by digging with great energy; their motions on the trees are greatly assisted by the stiff tail, which has the feathers pointed at the end, where they are usually much worn; they eat also fruits and seeds. They are generally solitary, and usually silent, the principal noise they make being produced by striking the bill against the trees; it is a mistake to suppose they injure trees, as their common name of sapsucker indicates; being in search of destructive insects, they do much more good than harm. They roost and nest in holes of trees; the eggs are four to eight, pure white, and deposited upon a few chips at the bottom of the hole. Their colors are generally strongly contrasted, black and white, or green and yellow, with red marks about the head. The family is connected with the cuckoos by the wryneck. (See Wryneck.) - The picince are the typical group of woodpeckers, and are very generally distributed over the earth, though most abundantly in warm regions.
Among the hundreds of species, only a few of the most common American ones can be described here. One of these is the hairy woodpecker (picus villosus, Linn.), 8 or, 9 in. long and 15 in. in alar extent, black above with white band down the middle of back; larger wing coverts and quills with conspicuous spots of white, and two white stripes on each side of head; lower parts white; in the male there is a scarlet nuchal crest, covering the white; the hyoid bones curve around the right eye to its posterior angle. It is found throughout North America to the eastern base of the Rocky mountains, other species occurring on the western slope; it is lively and fearless, met with at all seasons in orchards, woods, and fields, even in the midst of cities; in winter it visits the farm yards to glean among the leavings of the cattle; like other species, it clings when shot to the branches, even after death; the flight is short and rapid, the notes sharp, and the plumage very soft and full, especially in northern regions; it is found all winter in the woods about Lake Superior. - The ivory-billed woodpecker (campephihis principalis, Gray) is about 21 in. long and 30 in. in alar extent; the prevailing color isblack, glossed with bluish above and greenish below; stripe on side of neck and at base of bill, under wing coverts, parts of secondaries, and inner primaries, white; the crest in the male scarlet; primaries 10, the first very short; tail feathers 12, exterior very small and concealed; tarsi covered anteriorly with large plates.
It is found in the southern states, Mexico, and Brazil, inhabiting the lonely forests and dismal swamps, uttering loud notes, "pait, pait, pait," like the high tones of a clarinet, especially in early morning and while preparing the nest. It begins to prepare its nest early in March, high on a tree, digging a cavity under some protecting branch, from 12 to 30 in. deep and 7 in. wide inside, both sexes working at it; it prefers the tops of the highest trees for its feeding places, though it will eat grapes, persimmons, and berries; it does not attack corn and fruits like some other species; its flight is sweeping and very graceful. - The black woodpecker or log cock (dryotomus [hylatomus] pileatus, Bonap.) is 18 in. long and 29 in. in alar extent, with bill bluish black; general color dull greenish black; a narrow white streak from over 'eyes to hind head, and a wider one from under eyes along neck; crown, crest, and patch on cheeks scarlet; under wings and chin white, tinged with sulphur yellow; in the female there is no red on the cheeks, and the anterior half of the head is black.
This is the largest species in the northern states, and is found throughout North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. - The three-toed woodpecker (picoides arcticus, Baird) Is found from the northern states to the arctic regions, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific; species occur in the northern parts of both hemispheres, preferring generally forests of pines and spruces. - The melanerpinm or black woodpeckers are all American, and have the bill slightly curved. The red-headed woodpecker (melanerpes erythrocephalus, Swains.) is 9| in. long and 17½ in. in alar extent; it is bluish black, with head and neck all round crimson red, margined with a narrow crescent of black on upper breast; lower parts, rump, and broad band across wings, white. It is found over North America from the Atlantic to the Rocky mountains; it is very gay and frolicsome, fond of cherries, strawberries, and other ripe fruits, and young juicy corn, and so destructive to the latter that in many places a price is set upon its head; it also eats insects and larvae, and sucks the eggs of small birds. - In the colaptina or American ground woodpeckers, the bill has very slight lateral ridges; they are found very frequently on the ground, obtaining their food among ants' nests and the dung of animals; they also alight on trees, in the hollows of which they nest; fruit and corn form a part of their food.
The flicker, yellow-shafted, or pigeon woodpecker (colaptes auratus, Swains.) is 12½ in. long and 19½ in. in alar extent; it is also called high-holder. The color above is light olivaceous brown with a slight green tinge, each feather with a crescentic band of black near the end; head and upper neck bluish ash, with black patch on each side of cheek and red crescent on nape; throat pale lilac brown; crescentic patch on breast and rounded spots on belly black; shafts and under surface of wings and tail yellow; below yellowish or brownish white; bill slightly curved; the female has no black cheek patches. It is found in eastern North America to the Rocky mountains. - Of the gecininoe or old world ground woodpeckers, the green woodpecker (gecinus viridis, Boie) feeds chiefly on ants and bees, and is generally seen on the ground. - The picumninm or piculets are very small birds, having a short bill, sharp at the tip, rounded wings, and a short tail with broad rounded feathers, evidently not used as a means of support; they are found in the warm parts of South America, and in India and its archipelago; they nest in holes of trees, and lay two eggs. - For details on other North American species of woodpeckers, see vol. ix. of the Pacific railroad reports, pp. 79-125 (1858).
Black Woodpecker (Dryotomus pileatus).
Pigeon Woodpecker (Colaptes auratus).