Nature Notes

Vol. XIII September - 1935 No. 3

Thumbnail Sketches

sketch of Harris Woodpecker

1. Has a chisel pointed beak, like other woodpeckers, which serves it well in seeking food and building its nest.

Harris Woodpecker

2. The long extensible tongue penetrates deep into the burrows of wood boring insects and thus they are secured as food.

3. The nest is a hole in a dead tree lined with chips and from 10-40 feet from the ground.

4. There are generally four pearly white eggs.

5. This is the most common woodpecker in the park, probably most common in the Northwest, and may be found from northern California to Alaska.

6. This bird breeds in the park, usually during May.

7. It is about the size of a robin with general coloration of black and white. The male bird has a small bright red patch on top of its head.

8. Is industrious, active - though patient in the matter of procuring food - and independent.

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Some Notes on the Harris Woodpecker

When Mr. and Mrs. Dryobates villosus harrisi, better known as the Harris Woodpecker, set up housekeeping in an old fir snag less than ten feet from the ground they invited professional intrusion. Even though this bird is generally common in the park one rarely finds its nest in such a convenient position for photography. Doubtless the manufacturers of film would have smiled with satisfaction had they seen us recording the activities of these birds with our cameras.

The nest was first discovered on May 28, 1935. At this time the young were fairly well grown, filling the air round about with lusty cries for food. The entrance of the nest was practically circular in outline and about the size of a dollar and, after one successful flight to the nest, the old birds showed little concern over our presence. It was possible to approach within four feet of the entrance and record the activities of the birds as they fed their young. At first the old birds would enter the nest, disappearing from sight for a moment, and then, after a hasty inspection of the outdoors, plunge through the small opening again as if shot from a gun. Indeed the manner of exit resembled that of the "human cannon ball" which is so generally featured in the various "biggest shows on earth". Later however the birds fed their offspring from the exterior of the entrance and after observing the gluttonous manner in which the young birds snatched food from the beaks of their parents - striking hard at whatever food dangled from the parental beak - it became evident that their training had not included the acquisition of good manners.

To reach the nest entrance the old birds would fly, in a round about way from one tree to another, watching and gathering grubs in the process. There would follow a swift descending flight to the snag where, by a series of short hopping "hitches" the nest's entrance would be reached and the food transferred to the hungry and vociferous maws of the young.

The value of these woodpeckers to the forest was readily apparent in the light of the amount of grubs brought in as food but we also wondered at the manner in which the female bird shirked her responsibility on numerous occasions. In twelve trips that the birds made to the nest the male, recognized by the bright red patch on the head, made ten. (C.F.B.)

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