National Geographic : 1914 May
KINGFISHER (Ceryle alcyon). Length, about 13 inches. Not to be confused with any other American bird. Range: Breeds from northwestern Alaska and central Canada south to the southern border of the United States; winters from British Columbia, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia south to the West Indies, Colombia and Guiana. The cry of the kingfisher, which suggests a watch man's rattle in vigorous hands, can be mistaken for the note of no other bird; nor, for that matter, is the bird himself likely to be confused with any other species. Whether flying, perched on a branch over a stream, or diving for small fish, our kingfisher is always himself, borrowing none of his peculiarities from his neighbors. Many of his tropical brothers catch insects for a living; but our bird, early in the history of the development of the kingfisher family, discovered that fish were easier to catch and in the long run more filling than insects, and hence re nounced the family habit and assumed the role of fisherman. Instead of using a hollow tree as a nest site, the kingfisher has apparently learned a lesson from the sandswallows and excavates a burrow for himself in some sandbank, usually not far from pond or stream; and you may be sure that any pond chosen by him for a haunt is well stocked with fish. The fish he kills are chiefly minnows and of small value, but the bird sometimes makes a nuisance of himself about fish hatcheries, where his skill in catching young food fish often brings him speedy doom. RED-HEAD (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). Length, about 94 inches. Our only woodpecker with red head and broad white wing patch. Range: From southern Canada to the Gulf Coast and from central Montana, central Colorado, and central Texas to the Hudson and Delaware. Gen erally resident, but more or less migratory in the southern parts of its range. This strikingly marked and readily identified woodpecker is common in some localities and en tirely wanting in others which apparently are equally well adapted to the bird's needs. Its habits are a combination of woodpecker, jay and flycatcher, and catching insects on the wing is a common habit. Though in general migratory, the bird is apparently indifferent to cold and other weather conditions, and winters wherever food abounds, especially where beechnuts, of which it is very fond, are plenti ful. The red-head eats nearly twice as much vege table food as it does animal, but the latter includes many destructive insects. For instance, it is greatly to its credit that it eats both species of clover beetles, the corn weevil, cherry scale and 17-year cicada. On the other hand, vigorous accusations are not wanting from various parts of the country of damage done by this species. It eats corn on the ear, and attacks many kinds of small fruits, including straw berries and apples. It is also guilty of robbing the nests of wild birds of both eggs and nestlings. It does some damage to telegraph poles by boring into them to make nests. No doubt some of these charges are well founded. For the most part they represent the occasional acts of individuals, or are local and not characteristic of the species as a whole. RED-SHAFTED FLICKER (Colaptes cafer collaris). Length, 12 to 14 inches. To be distinguished from its eastern relative (C. auratus) by its red mustache and nuchal band and the red wing and tail shafts. Range: Rocky mountain region from British Columbia south to Mexico, west to the coast moun tains in Oregon and Washington, and through Cali fornia; largely resident. Few birds are more widely known than the flicker, as appears from the fact, recorded by Chapman, that in the various parts of the country it appears under no fewer than 124 aliases. Though well known, the flicker is more often heard than seen, its loud call often proclaiming its presence when it is hidden among the trees. As a rule the flicker is shy and in some sections of the country it has good reason to be, since it is accounted a game bird and, as such, pursued for the table. Though a woodpecker, the red-shaft departs widely from typical members of the tribe both in structure and habits. Notwithstanding the fact that its bill is not well adapted for boring into wood for larve, the bird manages to do considerable damage in the west by making holes, in church steeples, school houses and other buildings, to serve as roosting quarters. As it is nowise particular as to its domicile, it is possible materially to increase its numbers by putting up nesting boxes for its accomodation. The bird's subsistence is obtained largely from the ground, where it secures vast quantities of ants, for taking which its tongue is specially adapted; about one half its food in fact consists of these creatures. The flicker also con sumes grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, but it is so much of a vegetarian that the list of berries and seeds it eats is a long one, though it is not accused of taking domestic fruit. CALIFORNIA WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus and races). Length, about 92 inches. Easily distinguished from its fellows by its general black color, white forehead, throat patch, belly and wing patch. Range: Breeds from northwestern Oregon, Cali fornia, Arizona, and New Mexico south through Lower California to Costa Rica. The California woodpecker is a noisy, frolicsome bird and by all odds the most interesting of ourwood peckers. Its range seems to be determined by that of the oaks upon which it lives and from which it draws a large part of its subsistence. In California the bird is known to many by the Spanish name, carpintero, or carpenter, and its shop is the oak, in the dead limbs of which, as in the bark of pines, it bores innumerable holes, each just large enough to receive an acorn. That the birds do not regard the filling of these storehouses as work, but on the contrary take great pleasure in it, is evident from their joyous outcries and from the manner they chase each other in their trips from tree to tree like boys at tag. In California many of the country school houses are unoccupied during the summer and the woodpeckers do serious damage by drilling holes in the window casings and elsewhere with a view to using them as storage places. As long as the acorn crop lasts, so long does the storing work go on. Meanwhile the jays and squirrels slip in and rob the woodpecker's larder. Though this woodpecker eats insects, including some harmful ones, they form less than a third of its entire fare.