Pileated Woodpecker T-Shirt

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Plate No. 111: Pileated Woodpecker

John J. Audubon published his signature work, The Birds of America, between 1827 and 1836. The collection featured 435 plates, his depiction of the Pileated Woodpecker can be found on plate number 111.

Below are experts containing Audubon’s observations of the Pileated Woodpecker, taken from Ornithological Biographies, a book on bird habits that Audubon wrote to supplement his artwork.

“It would be difficult for me to say in what part of our extensive country I have not met with this hardy inhabitant of the forest. Even now, when several species of our birds are becoming rare, destroyed as they are, either to gratify the palate of the epicure, or to adorn the cabinet of the naturalist, the Pileated Woodpecker is every where to be found in the wild woods, although scarce and shy in the peopled districts.”

“Wherever it occurs it is a permanent resident, and, like its relative the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, it remains pretty constantly in the place which it has chosen after leaving its parents. It is at all times a shy bird, so that one can seldom approach it, unless under cover of a tree, or when he happens accidentally to surprise it while engaged in its daily avocations.”

“When seen in a large field newly brought into tillage, and yet covered with girdled trees, it removes from one to another, cackling out its laughter-like notes, as if it found delight in leading you a wild-goose chase in pursuit of it.”

“I shall never forget, that, while in the Great Pine Forest of Pennsylvania, I spent several days in the woods endeavouring to procure one, for the same purpose of proving its identity with others elsewhere seen.”

“Their natural wildness never leaves them, even although they may have been reared from the nest.”

“While in the Great Pine Forest of Pennsylvania, of which I have repeatedly spoken, I was surprised to see how differently this bird worked on the bark of different trees, when searching for its food. On the hemlock and spruce, for example, of which the bark is difficult to be detached, it used the bill sideways, hitting the bark in an oblique direction, and proceeding in close parallel lines, so that when, after awhile, a piece of the bark was loosened and broken off by a side stroke, the surface of the trunk appeared as if closely grooved by a carpenter using a gouge. In this manner the Pileated Woodpecker often, in that country, strips the entire trunks of the largest trees. On the contrary, when it attacked any other sort of timber, it pelted at the bark in a straightforward manner, detaching a large piece by a few strokes, and leaving the trunks smooth, no injury having been inflicted upon it by the bill.”

“This bird, when surprised, is subject to very singular and astonishing fits of terror. While in Louisiana, I have several times crept up to one occupied in searching for food, on the rotten parts of a low stump only a few inches from the ground, when, having got so near the tree as almost to touch it, I have taken my cap and suddenly struck the stump, as if with the intention of securing the bird; on which the latter instantly seemed to lose all power or presence of mind, and fell to the ground as if dead. On such occasions, if not immediately secured, it soon recovers, and flies off with more than its usual speed.”

“The Pileated Woodpecker is fond of Indian corn, chestnuts, acorns, fruits of every kind, particularly wild grapes, and insects of all descriptions. The maize it attacks while yet in its milky state, laying it bare, like the Redheads or Squirrels. For this reason, it often draws upon itself the vengeance of the farmer, who, however, is always disposed, without provocation, to kill the "Woodcock," or "Logcock" as it is commonly named by our country people.”

“The flight of this well known bird is powerful, and, on occasion, greatly protracted, resembling in all respects that of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Its notes are loud and clear, and the rolling sound produced by its hammerings, may be heard at the distance of a quarter of a mile.”

“Its flesh is tough, of a bluish tint, and smells so strongly of the worms and insects on which it generally feeds, as to be extremely unpalatable.”

“It almost always breeds in the interior of the forests, and frequently on trees placed in deep swamps over the water, appearing to give a preference to the southern side of the tree, on which I have generally found its hole, to which it retreats during winter or in rainy weather, and which is sometimes bored perpendicularly, although frequently not, as I have seen some excavated much in the form of that of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Its usual depth is from twelve to eighteen inches, its breadth from two and a half to three, and at the bottom sometimes five or six. It rears, I believe, only one brood in a season.”

“The observation of many years has convinced me, that Woodpeckers of all sorts have the bill longer when just fledged than at any future period of their life, and that through use it becomes not only shorter, but also much harder, stronger, and sharper.”

“I found it more abundant in the Texas than any where else, and whilst on Galveston Island, saw one tapping against the roof of a house, the first and only instance of so much familiarity in a bird of this species that has occurred to me. So much attached is this Woodpecker to the tree in which it has a hole, that during winter it is often seen with its head out, as if looking to the weather, the unfavourable state of which induces it to sink out of sight, and probably compose itself to rest. It may be found in the same neigbbourhood during the whole year, and, like many others of this family, it usually spends the night in the same hole.”