Lewis' Woodpecker

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Birds of America

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


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[Lewis' Woodpecker.]

[Melanerpes lewis.]


Here you have figures of the male and female of a beautiful and singularly marked species of Woodpecker, discovered in the course of the memorable journey of CLARKE and LEWIS to the Pacific Ocean, and of which the first figure, being that of an immature male, was presented by WILSON. All that is at present known of its habits is contained in the following notes addressed to me by THOMAS NUTTALL, Esq. and Mr. TOWNSEND. "About the middle of July," says the former of these travellers, "we first met with this fine species in our progress westward, in the central chain of the Rocky Mountains, in the cedar and pine woods of Bear river, on the edge of Upper California. They were already feeding their young, and inhabited the decayed trunks of the pine trees. Afterwards, at the close of August, in the plains sixty miles up the Wahlamet, flocks of from twelve to twenty together were to be seen shifting backwards and forwards in trees near the woods of the river, playing about like so many sportive Crows, which the young so much resemble in colour. Now and then they would alight to feed, but remained perfectly silent; they were very shy, the whole flock starting at any near approach. Whether they have any note or call at other seasons I am unable to say. At this time one would scarcely have suspected them of being Woodpeckers, for they perched in dense flocks almost like Starlings, and did not climb the branches, or tap in the least, but merely watched and darted after insects, or devoured berries like Thrushes. We seldom saw this remarkable species in the dense forests of the Columbia, or in any settled part of California."

Mr. TOWNSEND says, "We first found them on Bear river, and afterwards on the Columbia, where they arrive about the first of May. They are at first silent, but after incubation commences, they become very noisy and remarkably pugnacious, beating away all other birds from the vicinity of their nests. They frequently perch crossways upon the smaller branches of trees, as well as against their trunks, climb with the usual ease and activity of other species, and are in the frequent habit of darting out from the tree on which they had stationed themselves, and after having performed a circular gyration in the air, returning immediately to the branch from which they had started; as they near the latter again, they spread their wings horizontally, and sail to their perch like some of the Hawks. Both sexes incubate."

LEWIS' WOODPECKER, PICUS torquatus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. iii. p. 31.
PICUS TORQUATUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 46.
LEWIS' WOODPECKER, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 577.

LEWIS' WOODPECKER, Picus torquatus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. v. p. 176.

Male, 11, wing, 7 2/12.

Rocky Mountains and Columbia river. Abundant. Migratory.

Adult Male.

Bill about the length of the head, nearly straight, strong, compressed, tapering, pointed, very slightly truncate and wedged at the tip. Upper mandible with the dorsal line slightly arched, the ridge convex at the base, very narrow in the rest of its extent, the sides sloping and considerably convex, the lateral angle slight, and near the ridge, the edges sharp, direct, overlapping, the tip almost acuminate. Lower mandible with the angle rather short and wide, the crural outline concave, the dorsal ascending, straight, the ridge narrow, the sides convex, the edges sharp and inflected, the base faintly striated. Nostrils oblong, basal, nearer the ridge, concealed by the feathers.

Head of moderate size, ovate; neck rather short; body full. Feet very short; tarsus very short, feathered anteriorly more than one-third down, in the rest of its extent covered with a few large scutella, compressed, sharp-edged and internally with small scutella behind; toes four, first toe small, fourth rather longer than the third, second and third united at the base; all scutellate above; claws large, much curved, compressed, laterally grooved, very acute.

Plumage full, soft, blended, glossy above, rude beneath. A tuft of reversed stiff feathers on each side at the base of the upper mandible; the feathers in the angle of the lower mandible also stiff. Wings long, the first quill very small, being only an inch and a half in length; the second ten-twelfths shorter than the third, which is a twelfth and a half shorter than the fourth; the fifth longest, being a twelfth and a half longer than the fourth; secondaries broadly rounded. Tail of moderate length, very strong, of ten feathers, all of which are pointed and slit, the shaft terminating abruptly, the lateral feathers ten and a half twelfths shorter than the middle.

Bill dusky, bluish-grey toward the base. Feet bluish-grey. The general colour of the upper parts is black, highly glossed with green; a band across the forehead, the throat, and a broad patch on the side of the head, surrounding the eye, deep carmine or blood-red; beyond this the throat and part of the sides of the neck black; a band of dull white runs over the hind neck, and is continuous anteriorly with a large patch of reddish-white occupying the fore neck and part of the breast, the rest of the breast and the sides are rose-red, becoming of a deeper tint backwards; the lower wing-coverts, abdomen, and lower tail-coverts black.

Length to end of tail 11 inches; bill along the ridge 1 2/12; wing from flexure 7 1/12; tail 4 1/4; tarsus 1 (10 1/2)/12; hind toe (3 1/2)/12, its claw 3/12; second toe 7/12, its claw 5/12; third toe 10/12, its claw (6 1/2)/12; fourth toe 10/12, its claw 6/12.

Adult Female.

The female resembles the male, being scarcely distinguishable by her slightly duller tints, and the less extent of the red on the fore part of the head. A young bird obtained in September, has the bill quite pointed, the red on the head scarcely apparent, that on the lower parts intermixed with greyish-white, the fore part of the neck dull grey, and the white ring on the hind neck wanting; many of the feathers there, however, having one or two white spots near the end.

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