Birds – The Hairy Woodpecker

(Dryobates villosus) Woodpecker family

Length—9 to 10 inches. About the size of the robin.

Male—Black and white above, white beneath. White stripe down the back, composed of long hair-like feathers. Bright-red band on the nape of neck. Wings striped and dashed with black and white. Outer tail feathers white, without bars. White stripe about eyes and on sides of the head.

Female—Without the red band on head, and body more brownish than that of the male.

Range—Eastern parts of United States, from the Canadian border to the Carolinas.

Migrations-Resident throughout its range.

The bill of the woodpecker is a hammering tool, well fitted for its work. Its mission in life is to rid the trees of insects, which hide beneath the bark, and with this end in view, the bird is seen clinging to the trunks and branches of trees through fair and wintry weather,. industriously scanning every inch for the well-known signs of the boring worm or destructive fly.

In the autumn the male begins to excavate his winter quarters, carrying or throwing out the chips, by which this good workman is known, with his beak, while the female may make herself cosey or not, as she chooses, in an abandoned hole. About her comfort he seems shamefully unconcerned. Intent only on his own, he drills a perfectly round hole, usually on the under side of a limb where neither snow nor wind can harm him, and digs out a horizontal tunnel in the dry, brittle wood in the very heart of the tree, before turning downward into the deep, pear-shaped chamber, where he lives in selfish solitude. But when the nesting season comes, how devoted he is temporarily to the mate he has neglected and even abused through the winter ! Will she never learn that after her clear-white eggs are laid and her brood raised he will relapse into the savage and forget all his tender wiles ?

The hairy woodpecker, like many another bird and beast, furnishes much doubtful weather lore for credulous and inexact observers. ” When the woodpecker pecks low on the trees, expect warm weather” is a common saying, but when different individuals are seen pecking at the same time, one but a few feet from the ground, and another among the high branches, one may make the prophecy that pleases him best.

The hairy woodpeckers love the deep woods. They are drummers, not singers; but when walking in the desolate winter woods even the drumming and tapping of the busy feathered workmen on a resonant limb is a solace, giving a sense of life and cheerful activity which is invigorating.