Birds Vol 1 #2 – The Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) - Birds Illustrated

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) – Birds Illustrated

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. February, 1897 No. 2



imgpERHAPS no bird in North America is more universally known than the Red Headed Woodpecker. He is found in all parts of the United States and is sometimes called, for short, by the significant name of Red Head. His tri-colored plumage, red, white and black, glossed with steel blue, is so striking and characteristic, and his predatory habits in the orchards and cornfields, and fondness for hovering along the fences, so very notorious, that almost every child is acquainted with the Red Headed Woodpecker. In the immediate neighborhood of large cities, where the old timber is chiefly cut down, he is not so frequently found. Wherever there is a deadening, however, you will find him, and in the dead tops and limbs of high trees he makes his home. Towards the mountains, particularly in the vicinity of creeks and rivers, these birds are extremely numerous, especially in the latter end of summer. It is interesting to hear them rattling on the dead leaves of trees or see them on the roadside fences, where they flit from stake to stake. We remember a tremendous and quite alarming and afterwards ludicrous rattling by one of them on some loose tin roofing on a neighbor’s house. This occurred so often that the owner, to secure peace, had the roof repaired.

They love the wild cherries, the earliest and sweetest apples, for, as is said of him, “he is so excellent a connoisseur in fruit, that whenever an apple or pear is found broached by him, it is sure to be among the ripest and best flavored. When alarmed he seizes a capital one by striking his open bill into it, and bears it off to the woods.” He eats the rich, succulent, milky young corn with voracity. He is of a gay and frolicsome disposition, and half a dozen of the fraternity are frequently seen diving and vociferating around the high dead limbs of some large trees, pursuing and playing with each other, and amusing the passerby with their gambols. He is a comical fellow, too, prying around at you from the bole of a tree or from his nesting hole therein.

Though a lover of fruit, he does more good than injury. Insects are his natural food, and form at least two thirds of his subsistence. He devours the destructive insects that penetrate the bark and body of a tree to deposit their eggs and larvae.

About the middle of May, he begins to construct his nest, which is formed in the body of large limbs of trees, taking in no material but smoothing it within to the proper shape and size. The female lays six eggs, of a pure white. The young appear about the first of June. About the middle of September the Red Heads begin to migrate to warmer climates, travelling at night time in an irregular way like a disbanded army and stopping for rest and food through the day.

The black snake is the deadly foe of the Red Head, frequently entering his nest, feeding upon the young, and remaining for days in possession.

“The eager school-boy, after hazarding his neck to reach the Woodpecker’s hole, at the triumphant moment when he thinks the nestlings his own, strips his arm, launches it down into the cavity, and grasping what he conceives to be the callow young, starts with horror at the sight of a hideous snake, almost drops from his giddy pinnacle, and retreats down the tree with terror and precipitation.”

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS


My dear girls and boys:

The man who told me to keep still and look pleasant while he took my picture said I might write you a letter to send with it. You say I always keep on the other side of the tree from you. That is because someone has told you that I spoil trees, and I am afraid that you will want to punish me for it. I do not spoil trees. The trees like to have me come to visit them, for I eat the insects that are killing them. Shall I tell you how I do this?

I cling to the tree with my strong claws so sharply hooked. The pointed feathers of my tail are stiff enough to help hold me against the bark. Then my breast bone is quite flat, so that I may press close to the tree. When I am all ready you hear my r-r-rap—just like a rattle. My head goes as quickly as if it were moved by a spring. Such a strong, sharp bill makes the chips fly! The tiny tunnel I dig just reaches the insect.

Then I thrust out my long tongue. It has a sharp, horny tip, and has barbs on it too. Very tiny insects stick to a liquid like glue that covers my tongue. I suppose I must tell you that I like a taste of the ripest fruit and grain. Don’t you think I earn a little when I work so hard keeping the trees healthy?

I must tell you about the deep tunnel my mate and I cut out of a tree. It is just wide enough for us to slip into. It is not straight down, but bent, so that the rain cannot get to the bottom. There we make a nest of little chips for our five white eggs.

I should like to tell you one of the stories that some boys and girls tell about my red head. You will find it on another page of the book. Now I must fly away to peck for more bugs.

Your loving friend,

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) by Daves BirdingPix

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) by Daves BirdingPix

Lee’s Addition:

If a bird’s nest happens to be before you along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, with the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; (Deuteronomy 22:6 NKJV)

Not much to add to this one. The writer has told much about this Woodpecker. They are part of the Picadae Family in the Piciformes Order. Most woodpeckers are heard before they are found. They are either making their calls or you can hear them chipping away at the trees or “metal.”

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 February 1897 No 2 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 February 1897 No 2 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial for February 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

* (Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Mexican Mot Mot

Previous Article – The Swallow-Tailed Indian Roller

ABC’s of the Gospel


Red-headed Woodpecker – Wikipedia

Here are some more ads from the Birds Illustrated:

Birds Illustrated Ad - Feb

Birds Illustrated Ad – Feb

2 thoughts on “Birds Vol 1 #2 – The Red-headed Woodpecker

  1. I am enjoying these book entries you are posting. This would be a fun one to have in print. I am starting to collect older bird books. I found a 1947 edition of Peterson’s NA guide recently. There’s a half-price bookstore in Des Moines. I do miss the local Mom and Pop used book store in Omaha. I enjoyed seeing the same couple in there all the time, chatting and I knew they loved what they were doing.

    We have only seen the Red-headed a couple times. My poor husband was later into birding than the rest of us and would call out a Red-headed woodpecker when it was a Red-bellied. But that’s not as bad as my boo boo. I was looking through my ebird lists once and saw a Red-headed several months later than when we last saw one. ??? I am guessing I fat fingered something. I quickly made the change, because on that list, it should have been a Red-bellied.
    Sorry to have rambled on your post. God bless your day.


  2. I am glad you are enjoying the articles. When I started it I wasn’t sure readers would like it. I am enjoying doing them and learning as I do. Guess that is worth something.
    Lord Bless your day also.


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