Bird Identification – Hairy Woodpecker

Light woods, with plenty of old trees in them, suit this busy carpenter better than orchards or trees close to our homes, for he is more shy than his sociable little cousin, downy, whom he as closely resembles in feathers as in habits. He is three inches longer, however, yet smaller than a robin. In spite of his name, he is covered with black and white feathers, not hairs. He has a hairy stripe only down the middle of his broadly striped back.

After he and his mate have decided to go to housekeeping, they select a tree—a hollow-hearted or partly decayed one is preferred—and begin the hard work of cutting out a deep cavity. Try to draw freehand a circle by making a series of dots, as the woodpecker outlines his round front door, and see, if you please, whether you can make so perfect a ring. Downy’s entrance need be only an inch and a half across; the hairy’s must be a little larger, and the flicker requires a hole about four inches in diameter to admit his big body. Both mates work in turn at the nest hole. How the chips fly! Braced in position by stiff tail feathers and clinging by his stout toes, the woodpecker keeps hammering and chiseling at his home more hours every day than a labour union would allow. Two inches of digging with his strong combination tool means a hard day’s work. The hole usually runs straight in for a few inches, then curves downward into a pear-shaped chamber large enough for a comfortable nursery. A week or ten days may be spent by a couple in making it. The chips by which this good workman is known are left on the nursery floor, for woodpeckers do not pamper their babies with fine grasses, feathers or fur cradle linings, as the chickadee and some other birds do. A well-regulated woodpecker’s nest contains five glossy-white eggs.

Sheltered from the rain, wind and sun, hidden from almost every enemy except the red squirrel, woodpecker babies lie secure in their dark, warm nursery, with no excitement except the visits of their parents with a fat grub. Then how quickly they scramble up the walls toward the light and dinner!