Florence Merriam Bailey.

Handbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley online

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3.10-3.50, bill 1.00-1.08.

Remarks. The young of ruber is similar to the same stage of nuchalis,
but can be distinguished usually by the dull reddish suffusion over its
head, neck, and chest ; while the adult may be recognized in the field by
the absence of black chest patch and white stripes on the sides of the

Distribution. Breeds in Transition and Canadian zone forests of the
Pacific coast region from southern Oregon to northern Lower California ;
east to the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and eastern slope of the

Nest. In aspens, 15 to 25 feet from the ground. Eggs : 5 or 6, white.

Food. Beetles, spiders, ants, grasshoppers, centipeds, and larvae, wild
berries, sap, and inner bark.

In the Sierra Nevada the red-breasted sapsucker is one of the
common woodpeckers. When riding through the forests there we
often got a flash of color from its red head and neck as it flew before
our horses. On a fir slope above Donner one July day we discovered
chips at the foot of an old stub heavily covered with yellow lichen,
and rapping on it sent the mother flying and roused a clamorous
family of young.

The last week in July at Donner Lake we found a family of dull
colored young going about with their mother, a handsome old bird
with dark red head and breast. They flew around in a poplar grove
for a while, and then gathered in a clump of willows, where four
young clung to the branches and devoted themselves to eating sap.
The old bird flew about among them and seemingly cut and scraped
off the bark for them, at the same time apparently trying to teach
them to eat the sap for themselves ; for though she would feed them
at other times she refused to feed them there, and apparently watched
carefully to see if they knew enough to drink the sap. When the
meal was finally over and the birds had flown, we examined the
branch and found that lengthwise strips of bark had been cut off,
leaving narrow strips like fiddle-strings between. At the freshly cut
places the sap exuded as sweet as sugar, ready for the birds to suck.

In winter the red-breasted visits the cities, being seen, Mr. Grin-
nell says, in pepper- trees even on noisy city streets. He has found
it in Pasadena from October till the last of March.

40 3 a. S. r. notkensis (Suckow). NORTHERN RED-BREASTED SAT-

Similar to S. ruber, but darker, and belly olive yellow.

Distribution. Northwest coast region of North America, from Sitka
south in California through the Santa Cruz Mountains.

404. Sphyrapicus thyroideus (Cass.). WILLIAMSON SAPSUCKER.
Adult male. Upper parts glossy black except white rump, large white


patch on wing coverts, and fine white spots on quills ; sides of head with

two white stripes ; throat and breast black,

with a median stripe of bright red ; belly

bright yellow. Adult female : entire body

barred with brown or black and white, except Fig . 279. Williamson Saps^er.

for brown head and white rump and, rarely, a

red median stripe on throat ; chest usually with a black patch ; middle of

belly yellow. Young male : similar to adult male, but black duller, belly

paler, throat stripe white. Young female : similar to adult female, but

markings and colors duller, belly whitish, and chest without black patch.

Length : 9.00-9.75, wing 5.25-5.50, tail 3.80-3.90, bill 1.00-1.20.

Distribution. Breeds in Transition and Canadian zones in the western
United States from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the west-
ern spurs of the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and northern coast ranges ; south
to New Mexico and Arizona ; winters in southern California, New Mexico,
western Texas, and Sierra Madre to Jalisco, Mexico.

Nest. In pines and aspens, 5 to 60 feet from the ground. Eggs : 3 to
7, white.

Food. Mainly insects and their larvae.

The Williamson sapsucker is one of the handsomest birds one sees
in the forest, but ordinarily it flies from tree to tree before you and its
black back and white rump and wing patches are all that are seen.
After several weeks of such fleeting glimpses in the Sierra Nevada,
we were delighted by the discovery of a pair at home on their own
breeding grounds. The place, Lincoln Valley above Sierra Valley,
was close to the crest of the range, at an elevation of seven thousand
feet. The nest was in a stub in a group of huge Murray pines on
the edge of one of the most beautiful of the Sierra mountain meadows
a forest-encircled meadow brilliant with golden buttercups. It
seemed a right royal home for such noble birds. While I watched
the nest the male with his glossy coat, yellow belly, and red throat
came flying in, his bill bristling with insects; but feeling himself
observed, promptly sidled out of sight under the branches.


405a. Ceophloeus pileatus abieticola Bangs. NORTHERN

Head conspicuously crested ; bill longer than head, straight, with wedge-
like tip, beveled sides, and strong ridges, broader than high at base ; nos-
trils concealed by large nasal tufts ; feet peculiar, outer hind toe snorter
than outer front toe ; tarsus shorter than inner front toe and claw.

Adult male. Brownish or grayish black ; entire top of head, occipital
crest, and malar stripe bright red ; chin and wide stripe on side of head
white, or sulphur yellow ; patches on wings and under wing coverts white ;
feathers of belly tipped with whitish. Adult female : similar, but fore-
part of head and malar stripe brown instead of red. Young : similar to
female, but crest salmon. Male : wing 9, tail 6.31, exposed culmen 2.05.

Distribution. Heavily wooded regions of North America from the
southern Alleghanies northward to about latitude 63 and westward to
Pacific coast.


Nest. In aspens and coniferous
trees, 40 to 50 feet from the ground.
Eggs : usually 3 to 5, white.

Food. Wood-boring- beetles and
larvae which infest timbered tracts ;
also ants, wild grapes, berries, black
g-um, dog-wood, pokeweed, and service
berries, acorns, beechnuts, and chest-

The pileated woodpecker is not a
common bird in the western forests,
but is found in the Cascades and
Sierra Nevada, and when we were
From Biological Survey, u. s. Dept. of camping on Mount Shasta we would
Fig. 280. Nortifernpue^d Woodpecker, sometimes hear his slow deliberate

hammering and his ' bugle call ' at

sunrise. Though often heard he was seldom seen, but we were occa-
sionally fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of him with his con-
spicuous red crest winging his way with powerful bounding flight
through the forest and over the woodland meadows.

Stubs, torn and excavated by his 'borings' were found quite com-
monly in the Transition belt. In many of the excavations I no-
ticed that while the main cut might cover a section six inches long
and three wide, at the bottom of the big excavation would be a small
round hole that your thumb could fill, looking as if the worm were
finally found there. One of our party who was fortunate enough to
see the pileated at work described the process in detail. The bird
began by flying hastily from tree to tree, from tree to stump, and
stump to ground, finally going to work on a log on the ground.
After some preliminary pecking he began chiseling near a branch.
A steady pounding followed and the chips flew. The arc through
which his head was swung was so wide it seemed as if his neck must
break, but the bill came down straight, with the blow of a sledge-
hammer. After pounding awhile the bird stopped and pecked at
the bark till a big slab slid off, suggesting that he had been digging
deep holes, and then had worried off the surrounding bark. After
this followed a long period of quiet when his head moved around
busily without noise, as if he were probing the holes with his tongue
and enjoying his meal.

In the Yosemite National Park where shooting is forbidden the
pileated, instead of being one of the shyest of birds, is one of those
most in evidence, and as you drive by actually makes itself con-
spicuous by flying freely among the trees so near that you can see
his brilliant red head and the white spots on his wings, while he
utters. his loud ringing chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck , chuck.



The nests of the cock-of-the-woods show their power more than
their borings, for they are cut into the solid trunks of live trees.
Though well up out of reach they are made conspicuous by half a
bushel of fresh chips scattered over the ground around 'the tree.
The cavity goes back for about six inches and then down a foot and
a half, and the large white eggs rest on a soft bed of clean fresh
chips. The same tree is often used year after year, but never the
same hole. A fresh one is excavated each year and the old ones left
for occupation by saw- whet owls, wood ducks, and flying squirrels.


General Characters. Bill about as long as head, distinctly curved ;
upper mandible with an evident though short lateral ridge and nasal
groove, tip of bill more or less wedge-shaped ; outer hind toe not longer
than outer front toe.


1. Back barred with black and white.

2. Forehead yellow aurifrons, p. 218.

2'o Forehead not yellow.

3. Middle of belly yellowish uropygialis, 219.

3'. Middle of belly reddish carolinus, p. 218.

1'. Back not barred.

2. Belly rose color torquatus, p. 217.

2'. Belly white.

3. Head and neck red erythrocephalus, p. 215.

3'. Head with black, red, and white or yellow.

4. Chest band streaked with white . . formicivorus, p. 216.
4'. Chest band solid black bairdi, p. 217.

Subgenus Melanerpes.
Colors in large masses ; outer hind toe and outer front toe of equal lengths.

406. Melanerpes erythroceptialus (Linn.). KED-HEADED

Adult male. Whole head and
neck deep crimson ; under parts, rump,
and patch on wings, white ; rest of
upper parts, glossy blue black. Adult
female : similar, but with more or less
transverse black spotting on inner sec-
ondaries, and black collar more con-
spicuous than in male. Young: red
and black of adults replaced by gray,
streaked with darker on head and
neck, barred on rest of upper parts;
secondaries crossed near ends by one
or more black bands. Length : 9.25-
9.75, wing 5.30-5.70, tail 3.60-3.75.

Distribution. Breeding in Transi-
tion, Upper and Lower Sonoran zones
from Manitoba south to the Gulf of
Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the

From Biological Survey, U. S. Dept. of
Fig. 281.


eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains ; casual in Utah and southern Ari-

Nest. 8 to 80 feet from the ground in stumps, dead trunks or branches,
and on treeless prairies in fence posts and telegraph poles. Eggs: usually
4 to 7, white.

Food. In summer, insects such as grasshoppers, ants, beetles, flies,
and larvae, fruits and berries ; in fall and winter, nuts, wild berries, and
small grains.

The red-headed woodpecker is one of our handsomest birds. Its
colors are all keen the red, glowing red ; the white, snow white ;
and the black, glossy black.

In its methods of hunting, like all the members of the genus
Melanerpes, it combines the ways of the flycatchers and the wood-
peckers that get their food almost wholly from tree trunks and

In the east, where it depends largely on beechnuts for its fall and
winter supplies, its movements are very erratic, its appearance' de-
pending on the crop.

407. Melanerpes formicivorus (Swains.). ANT-EATING WOOD-

Adult male. Feathers around base of bill and chin black, bordered by

band of white or yellow ; crown red ;
sides of head, upper parts, and chest
band glossy greenish; blue black chest
streaked with white ; rump, wing patch,
and belly, white. Adult female : similar,
but with a black band separating white
or yellow forehead from red crown.
Young : similar to adults and with same
sexual differences in crown, but colors
duller. Wing: 5.30-5.90, tail 3.10-3.60,
bill 1.10-1.22.

Remarks. The squarish white patch
on the forehead is enough to distinguish
the formicivorus group from all other

Fie 282 Distribution. Breeds in Lower Tran-

sition zone from Texas to Arizona, and
south to Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico.

Nest. Usually in white oaks, but also in pines. Eggs : 4 or 5, white.

Food. Principally acorns, but also fruit, flies, ants, beetles, and

One of the most pleasantly familiar sounds in the live-oak belt in-
habited by formiciwrus and its allies is the ja-cob, ja-cob, ja-cob,
ja-cob uttered by these handsome woodpeckers as they fly from tree
to tree, their white rump and wing patches showing as they go. In
coming down from the fir forests of the mountains where the only
visible woodpeckers have fled silently before you, the soft cheery
voices of these birds have a friendly ring grateful to the ear. They


always have a great deal to say, whether it be in a canyon of the
Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico, where their chatter interrupts
the solemn hooting of the band-tailed pigeon, or on the campus of a
California university, where much is to be learned by silent listeners.
But their small talk never seems to interfere with their work, and
the acorn-filled tree trunks and telegraph poles attest their industry.
Of all our woodpeckers they are the prime storers, and though they
do not live in a land of snow, ground squirrels infest most of their
territory and make it important to have secure cupboards. Dr.
Mearns says their stores are the source of unending quarrels between
them and their numerous pilfering enemies, and confesses that when
short of provisions in the mountains he himself has filled his saddle-
bags with acorns from under the bark of a pine. The birds are true to
their Melanerpes instincts, although they do spend so much of their
time storing acorns, and vault into the air after insects in regulation
flycatcher style.

40 7 a. M. f. bairdi Eidgw. CALIFORNIAN WOODPECKER.

Like M. formicivorus, but with heavier bill and chest band solid black.

Distribution. Breeds in Upper Sonoran zone of the Pacific coast region
from Oregon south to northern Lower California.

Nest. 15 to 25 feet from the ground in oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods,
willows, and telegraph poles. Eggs : usually 4 or 5, white.

Food. Acorns during the greater part of the year ; also grasshoppers,
caterpillars, ants, beetles, flies, small fruits, berries, and green corn.

Subgenus Asyndesmus.

Bill combining characters of Colaptes and Melanerpes ; wings long, fold-
ing nearly to end of tail ; feathers of under parts and nuchal collar bristly.

408. Melanerpes torquatus (Wils.). LEWIS WOODPECKER.

Adults. Upper parts iridescent greenish black except for gray collar ;
face dull crimson ; throat and chest
gray changing to soft rose on belly ;
plumage of lower parts harsh and hair-
like. Young: head without red, neck
without collar, under parts with less
red. Length : 10.50-11.50, wing 6.50-6.80, tail 4.40-4.70.

Distribution. Breeds in Transition and Upper Sonoran zones from
Black Hills and eastern slope of Rocky Mountains to Pacific slope ; from
southern parts of British Columbia and Alberta to Arizona; winters in
southern California and western Texas ; casual in western Kansas.

Nest. 6 to 100 feet from the ground, usually high up in tall pines or
cottonwoods, or in decayed branches or stumps of oaks, sycamores, junipers,
and willows. Eggs : usually 6 or 7, white.

Food . In summer mainly insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets, ants,
beetles, flies, larvae, acorns, pine seeds, wild berries, and in cultivated
districts fruit.

When you reach the mountains on the west-bound Overland, from
the car windows you recognize with delight the crow-like figure of


your old friend flying with sweeping, powerful strokes straight over
the forest. You are in no danger of mistaking him, for his wide
wings and short tail distinguish him from all other birds as far as he
can be seen.

He is found high in the mountains mainly after the breeding sea-
son, for he nests in the Transition zone orchard and yellow pine
country, but like the redhead is an erratic wanderer. At Fort
Klamath flocks of two hundred have been reported coming from
the north in August, and from Klamath Falls to Susanville Mr.
Bailey found them the commonest woodpeckers, perching on the tall
stakes of rail fences along the roads, flying up into the air after
grasshoppers or other insects in true Melanerpes style. As it is said,
the ' acorn bird ' never comes in great numbers unless there is a good
crop of mast, for his movements depend on the food supply. In the
Black Hills Mr. Gary says the woodpecker is partial to burnt timber
in canyons.

Subgenus Centurus.

Upper parts barred ; wings with white patch ; outer hind toe shorter
than outer front toe.

409. Melanerpes carolinus (Linn.}. RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER.
Adult male. Top and back of head and neck bright red ; rest of upper

parts barred black and white ;
under parts gray except for red-
dish wash on middle of belly. Adult
female : similar, but red of head
interrupted by gray crown patch.
Young : duller, markings ob-
scured, red of head indistinct, that
of belly often replaced by dull
buffy. Length: 9.00-10.10, wing
4.85-5.50, tail 3.50-3.95, bill 1.00-

Distribution. Breeds in Lower
and Upper Sonoran zones of east-
Fig. 284. ern United States, from Ontario
to Florida, and west to the base of the Rocky Mountains.

Nest. In tree trunks or branches, 15 to 60 feet from the ground.
Eggs : 3 to 5, white.

Food. Beetles, ants, weevils, caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, larvae,
wasps, and other insects, with acorns, nuts, seeds, grain, and berries.

In parts of Texas the red-bellied is the most common woodpecker,
and often nests in telegraph poles, but over most of its range it is
shy and retiring, living preferably in heavily timbered bottom lands
and swampy woods.

410. Melanerpes aurifrons (WagL). GOLDEN-FRONTED WOOD-

Adult males. Forehead yellow, crown red, and nuchal patch yellow,



orange, or red; back finely
barred with black and white ;
rump plain white, tail black,
outer feathers barred with
white ; under parts light gray,
washed with yellowish on belly.
Adult female : similar, but with-
out red crown, and yellow of
plumage paler. Young : colors
duller, markings less distinct.
Wing: 5.20-5.65, tail 3.40-
3.75, bill 1.2(X-1.40.

Distribution. Central and
southern Texas, south to the
city of Mexico. Flg> 285 ' ^olden-fronted Woodpecker.

Nest. 6 to 25 feet from the ground, generally in mesquites, pecans,
oaks, or telegraph poles. Eggs : 4 to 7, white.

Food. Insects of various kinds, such as beetles, ants, grasshoppers,
and larvae among them one injurious to corn ; also acorns, Indian corn,
wild berries, and fruit.

In San Antonio the golden-fronted woodpecker nests in telegraph
poles and bird boxes about houses as well as in pecans, oaks, and
mesquites. In Eastland County, Texas, Mr. Hasbrouck says it is
often seen in the same tree with the red-bellied. On the mesquite
prairie of southern Texas the little Texan woodpecker is the only
one occurring at all commonly with aurifrons and there is no dan-
ger -of confusing them.

Aurifrons makes noise enough for a dozen, his loud penetrating
voice ringing across the road as you drive through the mesquites.
One of his common calls is a rattle like that of the California wood-
pecker. When he flies he shows his white rump and wing spots, and
on the rare occasions when you catch a glimpse of him you can see
the yellow of his neck above the black and white barring of his back.

411. Melanerpes uropygialis (Baird). GILA WOODPECKER.

Adult male. Head and under parts grayish brown, crown red ; middle

of belly yellowish ; back and rump
finely barred with black and
white ; middle and outer tail feath-
ers marked with white. Adult
female : similar, but without red.
Young : similar, but colors duller,
and markings less distinct. Wing :
5.00-5.30, tail 3.50-3.90, bill .95-

Remarks. This species may
be distinguished from aurifrons
by its brownish tinge, the absence
of yellow on its head, barred
rump, white markings on middle
tail feathers, and absence of
Fig. 286. marks on those next the middle.



Distribution. Colorado River in southeastern California, southern Ari-
zona, and southwestern New Mexico ; south through Lower California to
Jalisco and western Mexico.

Nest . Mainly in giant cactus, but also in cottonwoods, sycamores, and
mesquites. Eggs : 3 to 5, white.

Food. Lizards, insects such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and larvae,
with giant cactus fruit and mistletoe berries.

Major Bendire says that the general habits of the Gila woodpecker
are similar to those of the California woodpecker. Its ordinary call-
note he gives as dchilrr dcMrr, and a flight note as Unit huit, which
he says resembles the call-note of the phainopepla. In Arizona in
October, Mr. Bailey found two of the birds roosting in a tank every


General Characters. Bill acute, curved ; slender and weak for a wood-
pecker ; without lateral ridges or beveling ; nostrils not concealed by
nasal tufts ; outer hind toe shorter than outer front toe ; wings and tail


1. Under sides of wings and tail red.

2. Darker. Sitka to northern California . . . saturatior, p. 221.

2'. Lighter. Western United States collaris, p. 221.

1'. Under side of wings and tail yellow.

2. Back of neck with red band. Eastern North America.

luteus, p. 220.
2'. Back of neck without red band. Arizona and southward.

chrysoides, p. 222.

41 2 a. Colaptes auratus luteus Bangs. NORTHERN FLICKER.
Adult male. Upper parts brown, barred with black, except for red

nuchal band, white rump, and black
tail ; wings and tail with shafts and
under side of feathers bright yellow;
throat and sides of head pinkish
brown, with black malar stripe or
k mustache ' and black crescent on
chest ; rest of under parts brownish
white, washed with yellow and spotted
with black. Adult female : similar,
but without black mustache, though
sometimes with faint indications of
one. Young male: similar to adult
male, but crown marked with dull
red. nuchal band dull scarlet. Young
female : with dark mustache. Male :

From Bk,h

ii-'l S'lrvev. U. S. D^pt. of

Pig. 287.

wing 6.18, tail 4.09, exposed culmen
1.33. Female : wing 6.06, tail 4, ex-
posed culmen 1.25.
Distribution. Eastern and northern North America, south to North

Carolina and west to the Rocky Mountains; occasional on the Pacific

slope from California northward.


Nest. Usually 10 to 20 feet from the ground in stubs or trees. Eggs :
usually 5 to 9, white.

Food. Largely ants; also beetles, bugs, grasshoppers, crickets, and
caterpillars, weed seeds and berries.

The flickers of whatever local name or race are striking, forceful
birds. Their clear ringing clape and piute command attention, while
their rapidly uttered if-if-if-if-if-if-if is no less stirring. As they fly
in undulating line over a field there is a splendid flash of red or
golden from under their wings. At work or play they show the
same vigor arid whole-souled absorption, and their courtship is
accordingly both ardent and amusing.

As a genus the flickers are the least woodpecker-like of the fam-
ily. Instead of getting their food from the tree trunks or in the air,
they live largely on ants which they get from the ground, which
accounts for the brown of their backs, the slenderness of their bills,
and the character of their tongues. As they probe ant-hills to get
the ants their tongues are very long and provided with large sali-
vary glands whose sticky secretions hold the ants. As they do not
spear their food the tongue is freer from barbs than that of most
other woodpeckers.

413. Colaptes cafer collaris Vigors. RED-SHAFTED FLICKER.

Adult male. Ground color of head and body brownish, back barred
and under parts spotted with black ; rump white and tail black ; no nu-
chal band ; mustache red ; chest marked with black crescent ; under side of
wings and tail red. Female : Similar, but usually with a buffy or brown
malar stripe. Young : similar, but without mustache. Length : 12.75-
14.00, wing 6.45-7.15, tail 4.40-5.20, exposed culmen 1.34-1.53.

Remarks. Birds with varying combinations of the characters of C. col-
laris and C. luteus may be met with anywhere from the eastern border of
the plains to the Pacific.

Online LibraryFlorence Merriam BaileyHandbook of birds of the western United States : including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and lower Rio Grande Valley → online text (page 26 of 65)