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are of a beautiful golden yellow-that on the shafts of the primaries being very distinguishable, even when the wings are shut; the rump is white, and remarkably prominent; the tailcoverts white, and curiously serrated with black; upper side of the tail, and the tip below, black, edged with light loose filaments of a cream colour, the two exterior feathers serrated with whitish; shafts black towards the tips, the two middle ones nearly wholly so; bill an inch and a half long, of a dusky horn colour, somewhat bent, ridged only on the top, tapering, but not to a point, that being a little wedge-formed; legs and feet light blue; iris of the eye hazel; length twelve inches, extent twenty. The female differs from the male chiefly in the greater obscurity of the fine colours, and in wanting the black mustaches on each side of the throat. This description, as well as the drawing, was taken from a very beautiful and perfect specimen.
Though this species, generally speaking, is migratory, yet they often remain with us in Pennsylvania during the whole winter. They also inhabit the continent of North America, from Hudson's Bay to Georgia; and have been found, by voyagers, on the northwest coast of America. They arrive at Hudson's Bay in April, and leave it in September. Mr. Hearne, however, informs us, that “the Golden-winged Woodpecker is almost the only species of Woodpecker that winters near Hudson's Bay.” The natives there call it Ou-thee-quan-nor-ow, from the golden colour of the shafts and lower side of the wings. It has numerous provincial appellations in the different states of the Union, such as “ High-hole," from the situation of its nest, and “Hittock,” « Yucker," “ Piut,” « Flicker," by which last it is usually known in Pennsylvania. These names have probably originated from a fancied resemblance of its notes to the sound of the words; for one of its most common cries consists of two notes or syllables, frequently repeated, which, by the help of the hearer's imagination, may easily be made to resemble any or all of them.
[Plate IX.–Fig. 1.]
Picus erythrocephalus, Linn. Syst. I, 174,7.-Gmel. Syst. 1, 429.
- Pic noir a domino rouge. Buffon, vii, 55. Pl. Enl. 117.–CATESBY, 1, 20.--Arct. Zool. 11, No. 160.-Lath. Syn. 11, 561.Peale's Museum, No. 1992.
There is perhaps no bird in North America more universally known than this. His tri-coloured plumage, red, white, and black glossed with steel blue, is so striking, and characteristic; and his predatory habits in the orchards and corn-fields, added to his numbers, and fondness for hovering along the fences, so very notorious, that almost every child is acquainted with the Red-headed Woodpecker. In the immediate neighbourhood of our large cities, where the old timber is chiefly cut down, he is not so frequently found; and yet at this present time, June, 1808, I know of several of their nests, within the boundaries of the city of Philadelphia. Two of these are in Buttonwood trees (Platanus occidentalis,) and another in the decayed limb of an elm. The old ones, I observe, make their excursions regularly to the woods beyond the Schuylkill, about a mile distant; preserving great silence and circumspection in visiting their nests; precautions not much attended to by them in the depth of the woods, because there the prying eye of man is less to be dreaded. Towards the mountains, particularly in the vicinity of creeks and rivers, these birds are extremely abundant, especially in the latter end of summer. Wherever you travel
* We add the following synonymes:- Picus obscurus, GMEL. Syst. 1, 429. young.-Lath. Ind. Orn. 228.- Picus Virginianus erythrocephalus, Briss. 4, p.
in the interior, at that season, you hear them screaming from the adjoining woods, rattling on the dead limbs of trees or on the fences, where they are perpetually seen flitting from stake to stake, on the road side before you. Wherever there is a tree, or trees, of the wild-cherry, covered with ripe fruit, there you see them busy among the branches; and in passing orchards, you may easily know where to find the earliest, sweetest apples, by observing those trees, on or near which the Red-headed Woodpecker is skulking; for he is so excellent a connoisseur in fruit, that wherever an apple or pear is found broached by him, it is sure to be among the ripest and best flavoured. When alarmed, he seizes a capital one by striking his open bill deep into it, and bears it off to the woods. When the Indian corn is in its rich, succulent, milky state, he attacks it with great eagerness, opening a passage through the numerous folds of the husk, and feeding on it with voracity. The girdled, or deadened timber, so common among corn-fields, in the back settlements, are his favourite retreats, whence he sallies out to make his depredations. He is fond of the ripe berries of the sour gum; and pays pretty regular visits to the cherry-trees, when loaded with fruit. Towards Fall, he often approaches the barn, or farm house, and raps on the shingles and weather-boards. He is of a gay and frolicksome disposition; and half a dozen of the fraternity are frequently seen diving and vociferating around the high dead limbs of some large tree, pursuing and playing with each other, and amusing the passenger with their gambols. Their note or cry is shrill and lively, and so much resembles that of a species of tree frog, which frequents the same tree, that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the one from the other.
Such are the vicious traits, if I may so speak, in the character of the Red-headed Woodpecker; and I doubt not but from what has been said on this subject, that some readers would consider it meritorious to exterminate the whole tribe, as a nuisance; and in fact the legislatures of some of our provinces, in former times, offered premiums, to the amount of twopence per head, for their destruction. * But let us not condemn the species unheard. They exist; they must therefore be necessary. If their merits and usefulness be found, on examination, to preponderate against their vices, let us avail ourselves of the former, while we guard, as well as we can, against the latter.
Though this bird occasionally regales himself on fruit, yet his natural, and most useful, food is insects, particularly those numerous and destructive species that penetrate the bark and body of the tree, to deposit their eggs and larvæ, the latter of which are well known to make immense havoc. That insects are his natural food, is evident from the construction of his wedgeformed bill, the length, elasticity, and figure of his tongue, and the strength and position of his claws; as well as from his usual habits. In fact, insects form at least two-thirds of his subsistence; and his stomach is scarcely ever found without them. He searches for them with a dexterity and intelligence, I may safely say, more than human; he perceives by the exterior appearance of the bark where they lurk below; when he is dubious, he rattles vehemently on the outside with his bill, and his acute ear distinguishes the terrified vermin shrinking within to their inmost retreats, where his pointed and barbed tongue soon reaches them. The masses of bugs, caterpillars, and other larvæ, which I have taken from the stomachs of these birds, have often surprised me. These larvæ, it should be remembered, feed not only on the buds, leaves and blossoms, but on the very vegetable life of the tree, the alburnum, or newly forming bark and wood; the consequence is, that whole branches, and whole trees, decay, under the silent ravages of these destructive vermin; witness the late destruction of many hundred acres of pine-trees in the north-eastern parts of South Carolina;t and the thousands of peach-trees that yearly decay from the same cause.
† In one place, on a tract of two thousand acres of pine land, on the Sampit river, near Georgetown, at least ninety trees in every hundred were destroyed by this pernicious insect, a small, black, winged bug, resembling the weavel, but somewhat longer.
one say, that taking half a dozen, or half a hundred, apples from a tree, is equally ruinous with cutting it down? or, that the services of a useful animal should not be rewarded with a small portion of that which it has contributed to preserve? We are told, in the benevolent language of the Scriptures, not to muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn; and why should not the same generous liberality be extended to this useful family of birds, which forms so powerful a phalanx against the inroads of many millions of destructive vermin.
The Red-headed Woodpecker is, properly speaking, a bird of passage; though even in the eastern states, individuals are found during moderate winters, as well as in the states of New York and Pennsylvania; in Carolina they are somewhat more numerous during that season; but not one-tenth of what are found in summer. They make their appearance in Pennsylvania about the first of May; and leave us about the middle of October. They inhabit from Canada to the gulf of Mexico, and are also found on the western coast of North America. About the middle of May they begin to construct their nests, which, like the rest of the genus, they form in the body, or large limbs, of trees, taking in no materials, but smoothing it within to the proper shape and size. The female lays six eggs, of a pure white; and the young make their first appearance about the twentieth of June. During the first season, the head and neck of the young birds are blackish gray, which has occasioned some European writers to mistake them for females; the white on the wing is also spotted with black; but in the succeeding spring they receive their perfect plumage, and the male and female then differ only in the latter being rather smaller, and her colours not quite so vivid; both have the head and neck deep scarlet; the bill light blue, black towards the extremity, and strong; back, primaries, wingcoverts and tail, black, glossed with steel blue; rump, lower part of the back, secondaries, and whole under parts, from the breast downwards, white; legs and feet bluish green; claws light blue; round the eye a dusky narrow skin, bare of feathers; iris dark hazel; total length nine inches and a half, extent seventeen