Drummers and Carpenters – Chapter 11

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) Brevard Zoo by Dan

Is it a Downy or Hairy Woodpecker? Brevard Zoo by Dan

Drummers and Carpenters

The Downy, Hairy and Red-headed Woodpeckers.

The Burgess Bird Book For Children


Listen to the story read.

CHAPTER 11. Drummers and Carpenters.

Peter Rabbit was so full of questions that he hardly knew which one to ask first. But Yellow Wing the Flicker didn’t give him a chance to ask any. From the edge of the Green forest there came a clear, loud call of, “Pe-ok! Pe-ok! Pe-ok!”

“Excuse me, Peter, there’s Mrs. Yellow Wing calling me,” exclaimed Yellow Wing, and away he went. Peter noticed that as he flew he went up and down. It seemed very much as if he bounded through the air just as Peter bounds over the ground. “I would know him by the way he flies just as far as I could see him,” thought Peter, as he started for home in the dear Old Briar-patch. “Somehow he doesn’t seem like a Woodpecker because he is on the ground so much. I must ask Jenny Wren about him.”

It was two or three days before Peter had a chance for a bit of gossip with Jenny Wren. When he did the first thing he asked was if Yellow Wing is a true Woodpecker.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) red-shafted F-left M-right ©WikiC

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) red-shafted F-left M-right ©WikiC

“Certainly he is,” replied Jenny Wren. “Of course he is. Why under the sun should you think he isn’t?”

“Because it seems to me he is on the ground more than he’s in the trees,” retorted Peter. “I don’t know any other Woodpeckers who come down on the ground at all.”

“Tut, tut, tut, tut!” scolded Jenny. “Think a minute, Peter! Think a minute! Haven’t you ever seen Redhead on the ground?”

Peter blinked his eyes. “Ye-e-s,” he said slowly. “Come to think of it, I have. I’ve seen him picking up beechnuts in the fall. The Woodpeckers are a funny family. I don’t understand them.”

Just then a long, rolling rat-a-tat-tat rang out just over their heads. “There’s another one of them,” chuckled Jenny. “That’s Downy, the smallest of the whole family. He certainly makes an awful racket for such a little fellow. He is a splendid drummer and he’s just as good a carpenter. He made the very house I am occupying now.”

Peter was sitting with his head tipped back trying to see Downy. At first he couldn’t make him out. Then he caught a little movement on top of a dead limb. It was Downy’s head flying back and forth as he beat his long roll. He was dressed all in black and white. On the back of his head was a little scarlet patch. He was making a tremendous racket for such a little chap, only a little bigger than one of the Sparrow family.

“Is he making a hole for a nest up there?” asked Peter eagerly.

“Gracious, Peter, what a question! What a perfectly silly question!” exclaimed Jenny Wren scornfully. “Do give us birds credit for a little common sense. If he were cutting a hole for a nest, everybody within hearing would know just where to look for it. Downy has too much sense in that little head of his to do such a silly thing as that. When he cuts a hole for a nest he doesn’t make any more noise than is absolutely necessary. You don’t see any chips flying, do you?”

“No-o,” replied Peter slowly. “Now you speak of it, I don’t. Is—is he hunting for worms in the wood?”

Jenny laughed right out. “Hardly, Peter, hardly,” said she. “He’s just drumming, that’s all. That hollow limb makes the best kind of a drum and Downy is making the most of it. Just listen to that! There isn’t a better drummer anywhere.”

But Peter wasn’t satisfied. Finally he ventured another question. “What’s he doing it for?”

“Good land, Peter!” cried Jenny. “What do you run and jump for in the spring? What is Mr. Wren singing for over there? Downy is drumming for precisely the same reason—happiness. He can’t run and jump and he can’t sing, but he can drum. By the way, do you know that Downy is one of the most useful birds in the Old Orchard?”

Just then Downy flew away, but hardly had he disappeared when another drummer took his place. At first Peter thought Downy had returned until he noticed that the newcomer was just a bit bigger than Downy. Jenny Wren’s sharp eyes spied him at once.

“Hello!” she exclaimed. “There’s Hairy. Did you ever see two cousins look more alike? If it were not that Hairy is bigger than Downy it would be hard work to tell them apart. Do you see any other difference, Peter?”

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

Peter stared and blinked and stared again, then slowly shook his head. “No,” he confessed, “I don’t.”

“That shows you haven’t learned to use your eyes, Peter,” said Jenny rather sharply. “Look at the outside feathers of his tail; they are all white. Downy’s outside tail feathers have little bars of black. Hairy is just as good a carpenter as is Downy, but for that matter I don’t know of a member of the Woodpecker family who isn’t a good carpenter. Where did you say Yellow Wing the Flicker is making his home this year?”

“Over in the Big Hickory-tree by the Smiling Pool,” replied Peter. “I don’t understand yet why Yellow Wing spends so much time on the ground.”

Ants,” replied Jenny Wren. “Just ants. He’s as fond of ants as is Old Mr. Toad, and that is saying a great deal. If Yellow Wing keeps on he’ll become a ground bird instead of a tree bird. He gets more than half his living on the ground now. Speaking of drumming, did you ever hear Yellow Wing drum on a tin roof?”

Peter shook his head.

“Well, if there’s a tin roof anywhere around, and Yellow Wing can find it, he will be perfectly happy. He certainly does love to make a noise, and tin makes the finest kind of a drum.”

Just then Jenny was interrupted by the arrival, on the trunk of the very next tree to the one on which she was sitting, of a bird about the size of Sammy Jay. His whole head and neck were a beautiful, deep red. His breast was pure white, and his back was black to nearly the beginning of his tail, where it was white.

Redhead the Woodpecker, Downy the Woodpecker - Burgess Bird Book ©©

Redhead the Woodpecker, Downy the Woodpecker – Burgess Bird Book ©©

“Hello, Redhead!” exclaimed Jenny Wren. “How did you know we were talking about your family?”

“Hello, chatterbox,” retorted Redhead with a twinkle in his eyes. “I didn’t know you were talking about my family, but I could have guessed that you were talking about some one’s family. Does your tongue ever stop, Jenny?”

Jenny Wren started to become indignant and scold, then thought better of it. “I was talking for Peter’s benefit,” said she, trying to look dignified, a thing quite impossible for any member of the Wren family to do. “Peter has always had the idea that true Woodpeckers never go down on the ground. I was explaining to him that Yellow Wing is a true Woodpecker, yet spends half his time on the ground.”

Redhead nodded. “It’s all on account of ants,” said he. “I don’t know of any one quite so fond of ants unless it is Old Mr. Toad. I like a few of them myself, but Yellow Wing just about lives on them when he can. You may have noticed that I go down on the ground myself once in a while. I am rather fond of beetles, and an occasional grasshopper tastes very good to me. I like a variety. Yes, sir, I certainly do like a variety—cherries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes. In fact most kinds of fruit taste good to me, not to mention beechnuts and acorns when there is no fruit.

Jenny Wren tossed her head. “You didn’t mention the eggs of some of your neighbors,” said she sharply.

Redhead did his best to look innocent, but Peter noticed that he gave a guilty start and very abruptly changed the subject, and a moment later flew away.

“Is it true,” asked Peter, “that Redhead does such a dreadful thing?”

Jenny bobbed her head rapidly and jerked her tail. “So I am told,” said she. “I’ve never seen him do it, but I know others who have. They say he is no better than Sammy Jay or Blacky the Crow. But gracious, goodness! I can’t sit here gossiping forever.” Jenny twitched her funny little tail, snapped her bright eyes at Peter, and disappeared in her house.

Bold points for questions at the bottom or for Christian traits.


For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. (or your beak) (Psalms 128:2 KJV)

He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he. (Proverbs 16:20 KJV)

Seems like these woodpeckers enjoy doing what that is a sign they are happy?

  • Who are the four members of the Woodpecker family mentioned?
  • How does a Woodpecker fly?
  • Which is the smallest member of the family?
  • Can you describe him?
  • Which Woodpecker is just a little bit larger?
  • What about its tail?
  • Which one likes to eat on the ground half the time?
  • What is he looking for?
  • What does Redhead like to eat?


Woodpeckers – Picidae Family

Woodpecker – All About Birds

Woodpecker – Wikipedia



Creaker the Purple Grackle, The Male Cowbird - Burgess Bird Book ©©Thum


  Next Chapter Some Unlikely Relatives








Robust Woodpecker (Campephilus robustus) by BirdPhotos_com Wordless Birds


Riddlers – The Woodpeckers

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm - coverThe Woodpeckers, by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

A Project Gutenberg EBook






The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

The Riverside Press, Cambridge

Title: The Woodpeckers

Author: Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Release Date: January 25, 2011 [EBook #35062]


(This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org)




A Lifelong Naturalist



Long ago in Greece, the legend runs, a terrible monster called the Sphinx used to waylay travelers to ask them riddles: whoever could not answer these she killed, but the man who did answer them killed her and made an end of her riddling.

To-day there is no Sphinx to fear, yet the world is full of unguessed riddles. No thoughtful man can go far afield but some bird or flower or stone bars his way with a question demanding an answer; and though many men have been diligently spelling out the answers for many years, and we for the most part must study the answers they have proved, and must reply in their words, yet those shrewd old riddlers, the birds and flowers and bees, are always ready for a new victim, putting their heads together over some new enigma (mystery) to bar the road to knowledge till that, too, shall be answered; so that other men’s learning does not always suffice. So much of a man’s pleasure in life, so much of his power, depends on his ability to silence these persistent questioners, that this little book was written with the hope of making clearer the kind of questions Nature asks, and the way to get correct answers.

This is purposely a little book, dealing only with a single group of birds, treating particularly only some of the commoner species of that group, taking up only a few of the problems that present themselves to the naturalist for solution, and aiming rather to make the reader acquainted with the birds than learned about them.

The woodpeckers were selected in preference to any other family because they are patient under observation, easily identified, resident in all parts of the country both in summer and in winter, and because more than any other birds they leave behind them records of their work which may be studied after the birds have flown.

The book provides ample means for identifying every species and subspecies of woodpecker known in North America, though only five of the commonest and most interesting species have been selected for special study. At least three of these five should be found in almost every part of the country. The Californian woodpecker is never seen in the East, nor the red-headed in the far West, but the downy and the hairy are resident nearly everywhere, and some species of the flickers and sapsuckers, if not always the ones chosen for special notice, are visitors in most localities.

Look for the woodpeckers in orchards and along the edges of thickets, among tangles of wild grapes and in patches of low, wild berries, upon which they often feed, among dead trees and in the track of forest fires. Wherever there are boring larvæ, beetles, ants, grasshoppers, the fruit of poison-ivy, dogwood, june-berry, wild cherry or wild grapes, woodpeckers may be confidently looked for if there are any in the neighborhood.

Be patient, persistent, wide-awake, sure that you see what you think you see, careful to remember what you have seen, studious to compare your observations, and keen to hear the questions propounded you. If you do this seven years and a day, you will earn the name of Naturalist; and if you travel the road of the naturalist with curious patience, you may some day become as famous a riddle-reader as was that OEdipus, the king of Thebes, who slew the Sphinx.

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

Lee’s Addition:

This is the beginning of a series from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus this Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

Here are the upcoming chapter titles:

 Foreword: the Riddlers  
I.  How to know a Woodpecker  
II.  How the Woodpecker catches a Grub  
III.  How the Woodpecker courts his Mate  
IV.  How the Woodpecker makes a House  
V.  How a Flicker feeds her Young  
VI.  Friend Downy  
VII.  Persona non Grata. (Yellow-bellied Sapsucker)  
VIII.  El Carpintero. (Californian Woodpecker)  
IX.  A Red-headed Cousin. (Red-headed Woodpecker)  
X.  A Study of Acquired Habits  
XI.  The Woodpecker’s Tools: His Bill  
XII.  The Woodpecker’s Tools: His Foot  
XIII.  The Woodpecker’s Tools: His Tail  
XIV.  The Woodpecker’s Tools: His Tongue  
XV.  How each Woodpecker is fitted for his own Kind of Life  
XVI.  The Argument from Design  


A. Key to the Woodpeckers of North America

B. Descriptions of the Woodpeckers of North America

C. Explanation of Terms


I trust you will enjoy reading about these fantastic birds and how the Lord has created them to be able to carry out their task.


The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Wordless Birds


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

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Birds Illustrated Ad - Feb

Birds Illustrated Ad – Feb