The diligent downy

downy woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker looking down at a suet cake.

When civilized man invaded their territory, the downy woodpecker did not retreat before his advance but accepted as a home the orchards and shade trees with which man replaced the forest. At the present time it builds its nest sometimes within sight from our windows and often in the parks of our large cities. It is one of the best known of our permanent residents.

The ornithologists of a century ago show unanimity in their characterization of the bird. Audubon (1842) remarks that it “is perhaps not surpassed by any of its tribe in hardiness, industry, or vivacity”; Wilson (1832) says that “the principal characteristics of this little bird are diligence, familiarity, perseverance” and speaks of a pair of the birds working at their nest “with the most indefatigable diligence”; and Nuttall (1832) characteristically shares Wilson’s opinion even to the extent of employing his exact words, “indefatigable diligence,” in his own account of the building of the nest. Nearly a hundred years later Forbush (1927), when near the end of his long life, put his seal of approval upon this sentiment, expressed long ago, by summarizing the downy as a “model of patient industry and perseverance.”

Backed by these authorities we may regard the downy woodpecker as a bird with a stable and well-balanced nature, a bird which, unconcerned by the rush and traffic “of these most brisk and giddy-paced times,” still perseveres in its “indefatigable diligence.” – Winsor Marrett Tyler, 1939 Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 174: 52-68 (LINK)

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