Strict Standards: Redefining already defined constructor for class VoltRankDb in /home/shopth11/public_html/ on line 27

Strict Standards: Redefining already defined constructor for class VoltRank in /home/shopth11/public_html/ on line 714
Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

The definitive website on wildbirds & nature

Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.


Back TOC Forward

Bird Call

[Hairy Woodpecker (see also Canadian Woodpecker, Phillips' Woodpecker, Maria's Woodpecker, Harris' Woodpecker, and Audubon's Woodpecker).]

[Picoides villosus.]


This species of Woodpecker has been confounded with Picus canadensis, to which it bears a great resemblance in its markings, but from which it is distinguished by its smaller size, and other differences. WILSON, it appears, did not believe in the existence of the Canada Woodpecker, Picus canadenses; yet his figure of the Hairy Woodpecker seems to me to be a representation of that species, while his description belongs in part to both. These errors have been adopted by all his followers to the present day, although the specific distinctions between Picus villosus and P. canadensis have been clearly recognised by my young friend Dr. TRUDEAU, who wrote to me from Paris that both species were in the national museum there, and were looked upon as the same bird. Mr. SWAINSON, who observed a difference between the birds of the present species received from New York and those of higher northern latitudes, has given an exact description and figure of the bill of P. canadensis, thinking that he was describing P. villosus of LINNAEUS. To this he was probably led by the erroneous account given of the extent of the distribution of this species northward.

The Hairy Woodpecker, P. villosus, is a constant resident in our maritime and inland districts, from the Texas, where I have found it numerous, to the State of New Hampshire, as well as in all sufficiently wooded tracts intervening between the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi, and the northern borders of our great lakes. But not a single individual of this species could I or my sons procure in the State of Maine, where, however, the larger species, P. canadensis, was quite abundant, and from whence it extends its migrations "as far north," according to Dr. RICHARDSON, "as the sixty-third parallel." "It remains," he continues, "all the year in the Fur Countries, and is the most common species up to the fifty-sixth degree of latitude, north of which it yields in frequency to the three-toed species."

Lively, noisy, and careless of man, the Hairy Woodpecker is found at all seasons in the orchards, among the trees of our cities, along the borders of plantations, on the fences, or on the trees left in the fields, as well as in the densest parts of the forests. Nay, reader, I have found this species, when in company with my friend HARRIS and my youngest son, in the very midst of vast salt-marshes, about the mouths of the Mississippi, where here and there a straggling willow or cotton-tree bush occurred, as gay, busy, noisy, and contented as if it had been in the midst of the woods. In such localities it alights against the stalks of the largest and tallest reeds, and perforates them as it is wont to bore into trees.

In almost all parts of the Southern States, it becomes in winter one of the most familiar species, and, like the Downy Woodpecker, comes to the yard to glean the grains of corn left by the cattle. There it may be seen hopping on the ground, among Turtle Doves, Cardinal Grosbeaks, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and several species of Blackbirds. At this season, its visits to the corn-cribs are extremely frequent; and curious indeed do the shrill notes of this lively and industrious bird sound in the ear of the person who chances to surprise it within the crib, from which it makes off, passing swiftly perhaps within a foot or so of his hand. But no sooner has its escape been effected than it will alight close by, on the top of a fence-stake, and chuck aloud as if in merriment. I have often observed it clinging to the stalks of the sugar-cane, boring them, and apparently greatly enjoying the sweet juices of that plant; and when I have seen it, in severe winter weather, attempting to bore the dried stalks of maize, I have thought it expected to find in them something equally pleasing to its taste. Like all our other species, it clings, when shot, to the trunk or branch of the tree, until quite dead, and even remains sticking for several minutes more.

The flight of this species is usually short, though rapid, in this respect agreeing with that of some others allied to it, which are constant residents in the United States, and differing from that of the migratory species. It is seldom that more than the members of a family are seen together, and even this only until the young are able to provide for themselves. The migratory species, on the contrary, are frequently observed to congregate upon trees laden with fruit. This never happens with the Hairy, Downy, Yellow-bellied, Red-bellied, Canada, or Three-toed Woodpeckers; among some of which, however, a certain change of locality takes place from south to north and backwards, within the limits of the United States, in spring and autumn.

The Hairy Woodpecker feeds on the larvae of most insects, as well as on the insects Themselves. It sometimes launches into the air after a passing one, as indeed is the case with all the Woodpeckers with which I am at present acquainted, although the larger species are less addicted to this mode of pursuing their prey than the smaller. In autumn it frequently feeds on berries near the ground, or on grasses and other fruits among the tops of our tall trees. Its notes are sharp, loud, and at times rolling, like those of others of our smaller species, but frequently uttered singly whilst it is moving on wing or along a tree.

The hole which it forms for receiving its eggs seldom exceeds two feet in depth, after diverging from its first horizontal direction, sometimes running perpendicularly, but often obliquely. In the Southern States two broods are frequently reared in the season; the first being seen abroad in May, the other in the end of July or the beginning of August. In the Middle Districts it rarely produces more than one brood. I have regularly observed that those pairs which had two broods in Louisiana, raised both in the same nest, and that not unfrequently within a few yards of a house. The eggs of the first hatch are usually six, of the second four. In the Middle Districts the number varies from four to six, and in two instances I found seven. They measure 1 inch in length by 5 1/2 eighths in breadth, are elliptical or almost equally rounded at both ends, smooth, pure white and translucent. The young remain about the nest until well able to fly, as is the case with those of other species.

Various writers state that the Hairy Woodpecker has been found in England; but this is very doubtful, and at present it does not seem that there are any well authenticated instances.

I have figured a male and a female; the latter, I believe, not having previously been represented.

HAIRY WOODPECKER, Picus villosus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 150.
PICUS VILLOSUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 46.
HAIRY WOODPECKER, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 575.

HAIRY WOODPECKER, Picus Villosus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. v. p. 164.

Male, 8 3/4, 14 1/2. Female, 8 1/2, 15.

Breeds from Texas to New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Valley of the Mississippi. Common. Resident.

Adult Male.

Bill about the length of the head, straight, strong, angular, compressed toward the tip, which is truncate and cuneate. Upper mandible with the dorsal line straight, the ridge very narrow, the sides sloping and flat, the lateral angle or ridge nearer the edge, which is sharp, direct, and overlapping. Lower mandible with the angle short and rather wide, the dorsal line straight, the ridge narrow, the sides flat at the base, convex toward the end, the edges inflected, the tip narrow. Nostrils oblong, basal, concealed by the feathers, and placed near the margin.

Head large, ovate; neck rather short; body full. Feet very short; tarsus short, compressed, feathered anteriorly more than one-third down, scutellate in the rest of its extent, as well as behind, on the inner side; toes four; first small, but stout; fourth longest and directed backwards, second and third united at the base; all scutellate above. Claws large, much curved, compressed, laterally grooved, very acute.

Plumage very soft, full, and blended. A large tuft of reversed stiffish feathers on each side of the base of the upper mandible, concealing the nostrils; the feathers in the angle of the lower mandible also stiffish, elongated, and directed forward. Wings rather long; the first quill very small, being only eleven-twelfths long, the second one inch and eleven-twelfths longer, and five and a half twelfths shorter than the third, which is one-twelfth shorter than the fourth, this being the longest, but scarcely exceeding the fifth; secondaries broad and rounded. Tail of moderate length, cuneate, of twelve feathers, of which the lateral, which are rounded and unworn, are only one inch long, the next, also unworn, are nine-twelfths of an inch shorter than the middle, which are pointed, having the shafts very strong and bristle-pointed; all the rest more or less pointed.

Bill bluish-grey, toward the end black. Iris brown. Feet bluish-grey. The upper parts are black, spotted with white, the lower brownish-white. The tufts of bristly feathers over the nostrils, and in the angle of the lower jaw, are dull yellow; the upper part of the head and the hind neck are glossy black; over each eye is a band of white continuous with a transverse band of scarlet on the occiput, usually divided into two patches by the continuation of the black of the head; a black band from the bill to the eye, continued behind it over the auriculars, and joining the black of the hind neck; beneath this black band is one of white, proceeding from the angle of the mouth and curving backwards below the middle of the neck, so as to meet its fellow behind; this band is succeeded by another of black, proceeding from the base of the lower mandible, and continuous with the black of the shoulders. All the upper parts may be described as black, tinged with brown behind; the feathers along the middle of the back tipped with white, forming a longitudinal band of that colour; the wing-coverts, the anterior excepted, and quills spotted with the same, there being on the four longest primaries seven spots on the outer and five on the inner web, on most of the secondaries five on each web; but on the outer quill only one patch on each web, and on the second two spots on the outer, and three on the inner. The four middle tail-feathers are glossy black, the rest black only towards the base, the outermost being almost entirely white. The lower parts are white, tinged with dull grey on the fore neck and breast, the sides with blackish-grey.

Length to end of tail 8 3/4 inches; to end of wings 7 3/8, to end of claws 7 1/2; extent of wings 14 1/4; bill along the ridge 1 1/12; along the lower mandible 1 1/4; wing from flexure 4 7/12; tail 2 11/12; tarsus 10/12; hind toe 3/12, its claw 4/12; second toe 6/12, its claw 6/12; third toe (7 1/4)/12, its claw (6 1/4)12, fourth toe 7/12, its claw 7/12.

Adult Female.

The female resembles the male externally, being however more tinged with brown, especially on the quills, and wanting the red patches on the occiput.

Length to end of tail 8 1/2 inches, to end of wings 7 1/2, to end of claws 7 1/2; extent of wings 15.

In an adult male the roof of the mouth has a prominent middle ridge, which divides posteriorly into two; the palate is convex; the posterior aperture of the nares linear-oblong, margined with papillae. The tongue is eleven-twelfths long, toward the end horny, pointed, and furnished with two lateral series of acute reversed papillae. The horns of the hyoid bone curve round the occiput, converge on the top of the head, then leave the median line, pass to the right side in a groove round the anterior edge of the orbit, and are deflected backwards below the eye so far as near the level of its posterior angle. The aperture of the mouth measures 5 1/2 twelfths across. The oesophagus is 3 inches long, 3 1/2 twelfths in diameter, very slightly dilated at the lower part of the neck. The proventriculus is scarcely enlarged, its glandules form a belt 4 twelfths in breadth. The stomach is oblong, 11 twelfths in length, 7 twelfths broad; its lateral muscles very thin; the epithelium thin, tough, longitudinally rugous, reddish-brown. The contents of the stomach are skins of large white larva with black heads. The intestine is 9 1/2 inches long, the duodenum 2 1/2 twelfths in diameter. There are no coeca.

The trachea is 2 inches 5 twelfths in length, its diameter 1 1/2 twelfths, gradually diminishing to 1 twelfth. The contractor muscles are both anterior for the length of 1 1/2 inches, beyond which they become lateral, and terminate in the sterno-tracheal at the distance of 2 twelfths from the bifurcation. There are no inferior laryngeal muscles. The rings of the trachea, which are firm, and but slightly compressed, are about 50 in number; the bronchial half rings about 15.

According to Mr. TOWNSEND this species is found from the Rocky Mountains to the shores of the Columbia river.

Back TOC Forward

Save Our Forests