|THIS little Woodpecker is the
smallest of all those inhabiting the United States. In
the shade trees about houses and parks, and especially in
orchards, he may be frequently seen tapping or scratching
on the limb of a tree within two or three yards
distance, where he has discovered a decayed spot
inhabited by wood-boring larvae or a colony of ants, his
food consisting of ants, beetles, bugs, flies,
caterpillars, spiders, and grasshoppers. The late Dr.
Glover of the Department of Agriculture, states that on
one occasion a Downy Woodpecker was observed by him
making a number of small, rough-edged perforations in the
bark of a young ash tree, and upon examination of the
tree when the bird had flown, it was found that wherever
the bark had been injured, the young larvae of a
wood-eating beetle had been snugly coiled underneath and
had been destroyed by the bird. Dr. Merriam says that in
northern New York they feed extensively on this nut,
particularly in fall, winter, and early spring.
This miniature Woodpecker is very social in hit habits, far more so than other species, and is often found associated with other birds, in the woods, the orchards, along fence rows, and not infrequently in the cities. He is often seen in company with the White-breasted Nuthatch (See Vol. II, p. 118) and the Brown Creeper (Vol. III, p. 214).
Early in the spring the Downies retire to the woods to make their nests, preferring the vicinity of running water. The nest is begun about the second or third week in May, and consumes from two days to a week in building.
holes are usually excavated in dead willow, poplar, or
oak trees, and the height varies from four to thirty
feet, generally about fifteen feet. The entrance to the
nest is about two inches in diameter, and the depth of
the nest hole varies from eight to eighteen inches. The
eggs are four or five, rarely six, and are pure
We know of no more interesting occupation than to observe this bird. It is found of drumming on the stub of a dead limb whose center is hollow, and whose shell is hard and resonant. Upon such places it will drum for an hour at a time, now and then stopping to listen for a response from its mate or of some rival. At all times it is unsuspicious of man, and when engaged in excavating the receptacle for its nest it continues its busy chiseling, unheeding his near approach.
The Woodpecker is wrongfully accused of boring into the sound timber, and, by letting in the water, hastening its decay. As Dixon says: Alas! poor harmless, unoffending Woodpecker, I fear that by thy visits to the trees thou art set down as the cause of their premature decay. Full well I know thy beak, strong as it is, is totally incapable of boring into the sound timber full well do I know that, even if thou wert guilty of such offense, nothing would reward thy labors, for thy prey does not lurk under the bark of a healthy tree. Insects innumerable bore through its bark and hasten its doom, and it is thy duty in Natures economy to check them in their disastrous progress.