Plate 112

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker, which is best known in all parts of the United States by the name of Sapsucker, is perhaps not surpassed by any of its tribe in hardiness, industry, or vivacity. If you watch its motions while in the woods, the orchard, or the garden, you will find it ever at work. It perforates the bark of trees with uncommon regularity and care; and, in my opinion, greatly assists their growth and health, and renders them also more productive. Few of the farmers, however, agree with me in this respect; but those who have had experience in the growing of fruit-trees, and have attended to the effects produced by the boring of this Woodpecker, will testify to the accuracy of my statement. 

This species is met with, during summer, in the depth of the forest, as well as in the orchard or the garden. In winter it frequently visits the wood-pile of the farmer, close to his house, or resorts to his corn-crib, where, however, it does little damage. I have found it pretty generally distributed from the lower parts of Louisiana to Labrador, and as far to the westward as I have travelled. It seems, in fact, to accommodate itself to circumstances, and to live contented anywhere. 

About the middle of April it begins to form its nest, shewing little care as to the kind of tree it selects for the purpose, although it generally chooses a sound one, sometimes, however, taking one that is partially decayed. The pair work together for several days before the hole is completed, sometimes perhaps a whole week, as they dig it to the depth of a foot or sixteen inches. The direction is sometimes perpendicularly downwards from the commencement, sometimes transverse to the tree for four or five inches, and then longitudinal. The hole is rendered smooth and conveniently large throughout, the entrance being perfectly round, and just large enough to admit one bird at a time. The eggs, commonly six in number, pure white, and translucent, are deposited on the bare wood. In the Southern and Middle States, two broods are raised in the season; farther north seldom more than one. The young follow their parents through the woods, in company with Nuthatches and Creepers, and seem at all times lively and happy. Their shrill rolling notes are heard at a considerable distance, as well as those which they use when calling to each other. Their food, during summer, consists of insects and their larvae; but, at the approach of autumn, they feed on fruits of various kinds, especially small grapes, and the berries of the poke-weed. The extensile portion of the tongue of this species, as well as of Picus varius, P. villosus, and P. querulus, is cylindrical or vermiform, while the extremity, or tongue itself, is linear, flat above, convex beneath, with projecting edges which are serrated backwards, the tip pointed. 

The flight of the Downy Woodpecker, like that of the other species, is performed by glidings and undulations, between each of which it utters a single click note; and, although usually short, is capable, on occasion, of being protracted. The bird is by no means shy or suspicious, and scarcely pays any attention to man, even when standing close to the tree on which it is at work. Towards winter many individuals migrate southward, and spend their time in the immediate neighbourhood of the planter's dwelling. 

I have observed that during their stay in the Floridas, Georgia, and the Carolinas, their breast and belly are so soiled by the carbonaceous matter adhering to the trees, in consequence of the burning of the grass at that season, that one might be apt to take a specimen in that state, as belonging to a different species. 

DOWNY WOODPECKER, Picus pubescens, Wils. Amer. Orn., Vol. i. P. 153. 
PICUS PUBESCENS, Bonap. Syn., p. 46. 
PICUS (DENDROCOPUS) PUBESCENS, Downy Woodpecker, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 307. 
DOWNY WOODPECKER, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 576. 
DOWNY WOODPECKER, Picus pubescens, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 81; vol. v.p. 539. 

Male, 6 3/4, 12. 

Breeds from Texas to Labrador, and northward to lat. 58 degrees. Common throughout the interior to the eastern bases of the Rocky Mountains. In every district a constant resident. 

Adult Male. 

Bill longish, straight, strong, tapering, compressed, slightly truncated and cuneate at the tip; mandibles of equal length, both nearly straight in their dorsal outline, their sides convex; nostrils basal, oval, covered by recumbent bristly feathers. Head of moderate size, neck of ordinary length, body robust. Feet rather short, strong; tarsus strong, scutellate before; two toes before and two behind, the inner hind toe shortest; claws strong, arched, very acute. 

Plumage soft, with rather disunited barbs, slightly glossed; wings large, the third and fourth quills longest; tail longish, cuneate, of ten tapering stiff feathers, worn to a point. 

Bill bluish-black; iris dark red; feet bluish-green; claws light blue, black at the end. The top of the head is black, as are a broad band behind the eye, another below the cheek, as well as the shoulders, wings, and tail; there is a bright red narrow band on the occiput. A band over the eye, and meeting on the hind neck; another from the base of the upper mandible, passing under the eye, and down the neck; six bars on the wings, and the greater part of the middle of the back, together with the three lateral tail-feathers on each side, white, the latter marked with black spots. The lower parts in general are dull white. 

Length 6 3/4 inches; extent of wings 12; bill along the ridge 10/12; tarsus 3/4. 

Adult Female. 

In the female, the red band on the head is wanting, the place occupied by it in the male being white. The lower parts are brownish-white. 

In a male preserved in spirits, the width of the mouth is 4 1/2 twelfths, the tongue is 8 1/2 twelfths long, its horny part 3 1/2 twelfths, slender, tapering, flat above, furnished on the edges with a single row of rather strong deflected bristles, about 12 in number. The hyoid bones converge on the top of the head as usual, but do not proceed farther forward than opposite the centre of the eye, terminating at the distance of 4 twelfths from the base of the bill, in which respect they contrast strongly with those of the Hairy Woodpecker. The oesophagus is 2 1/4 inches long, its width scarcely 1 twelfth, it being in its contracted state narrower than the trachea; the proventriculus enlarges to 3 twelfths. The stomach is elliptical, 7 1/2 twelfths long, 5 1/2 twelfths in breadth, its muscles well developed; the epithelium thin, tough, rugous, and of a reddish-brown colour. It is filled with farinaceous vegetable substances of a whitish colour. Intestine of moderate length, wide, 8 inches long, its width at the upper part 2 twelfths. No coeca. Trachea 1 inch 5 twelfths long, its breadth nearly 1 twelfth; its contractor muscles moderate; its rings about 50; the bronchial half rings 12. The salivary glands are of large size. 



This species is met with only in the Southern Districts. It is rather rare in Louisiana, but abounds in Georgia, Alabama, and the Floridas. The flowers are destitute of odour. Humming-birds delight to search for food in them, as well as in those of other species of the genus.

For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.