Woodpeckers of the World
A Photographic Guide
Gerard Gorman
This is a sumptuous volume, with over five-hundred pages of text and over 1,000 color photographs of the woodpeckers of the world, although some of the names do give us pause. Sapsucker? Piculets? Wrynecks?

Rufous, Ashy, Hairy, Olivaceous? And, this one I must see: "The Melancholy Woodpecker."

I just looked it up here on page 201. Not only drab, but "dark and dull overall." Maybe its the complicated vocalizations that make it sad, have to remember all these various calls, all the while drumming endlessly on a nearby plane tree: "A tinny trill and loud, harsh series of up to 12 rrek and rrak notes."

    Also a rapid, solid bddddddd-d-it or br-r-r-r-r-r and repeated, buzzing zh-dzeeeep, dzheet or dzhaah notes . . . . in disputes utters low-pitched pit or but notes.

Maybe the problem is merely that the woodpecker is "Resident and sedentary in the Upper Guinea rainforests." I'd be melancholy if I had to live anywhere in the Republic of Guinea, where, according to one source, the government --- rather than using public polls to glean citizens' political and social opinions --- utilizes that old fallback, torture.

In addition, girls are usually given the chance of joining adulthood by --- instead of becoming debutantes, or going out to "raves" as in this country --- are required to submit to FGM to mark their place in adult society. "Guinea has the second highest prevalence of female genital mutilation in the world," Wikipedia reports.

Foreign Policy opines that Guinea can now be classed as a "failed state." A recent political rally in Conakry was greeted by the sitting government with "a rampage of rape, mutilation, and murder."

Because of the now desolate infrastructure of roads, highways, power and dams left behind by the French colons; the main transportation in the country is horse, donkey, and foot.

Alpha Condé, the President, looks even more sullen than some of our current Republican candidates for President.

There are, or were, many interesting species of bats in Guinea, but government scientists decided that bats are the source of the ebola epidemic, so people now prove themselves good citizens by going into caves and murdering bats. So now no bats but a surplus of mosquitos, along with dengue, malaria and other lethal viruses.

Several factors are fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Guinea. They include "unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners, illiteracy, endemic poverty, unstable borders, refugee migration, lack of civic responsibility, and scarce medical care and public services."

The same source reported,

    Malnutrition is a serious problem for Guinea. A 2012 study reported high chronic malnutrition rates, with levels ranging from 34% to 40% by region, as well as acute malnutrition rates above 10% in Upper Guinea's mining zones. The survey showed that 139,200 children suffer from acute malnutrition, 609,696 from chronic malnutrition and further 1,592,892 suffer from anemia. Degradation of care practices, limited access to medical services, inadequate hygiene practices and a lack of food diversity explain these levels.

§   §   §

Now you know the sources of the Melancholy Woodpecker's depression. These birds certainly would prefer to pack up and emigrate to anywhere other than their home country. Dallas, say. Phoenix, even. Fargo, North Dakota, let's go.

Next to a picture of a photograph of the Dendropicos lugubris, Gorman reports: "Adult female. Being rather drab and foraging mainly in the canopy. Melancholy Woodpecker is often difficult species to observe." Alone and lonely in Conakry, these poor drabs.

§   §   §

In contrast, Woodpeckers of the World is a tremendous, bright, lively, and noisy production. You probably know that most woodpeckers are a little dotty from banging their little pin-heads against tree trunks all day long. The editor reports,

    When a woodpecker drums, its skull can experience shocks in excess of 1200g (humans are usually left concussed at deceleration rates of 100g).

Gorman claims that these birds are protected by "an adaptation unique to woodpeckers . . . a shock absorber, "an inwardly curved maxilla, an overhang of spongy tissue between the upper mandible and skull."

Who can be sure, especially those of us who grew up under the baleful influence of the immensely popular and immensely buggy popular song invented back in 1947, inspired by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

"The Woody Woodpecker Song" made ample use of an especially fatuous shrieking in Kay Kyser's 1948 recording with Harry Babbitt's laugh interrupting vocalist Gloria Wood. Because of the sophistication of post-WWII America, it became one of the biggest hit singles of 1948.

Other artists did covers, including Woody's original voice actor, Mel Blanc, and, showing the rich culture of The Land of the Brave, became the first and only song from an animated short subject to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song.

"Lantz soon adopted the song as Woody's theme music, and due to the song's popularity, Woody Woodpecker fan clubs sprang up, theaters held 'Woody' matinées, and boys got the 'Woody Woodpecker' haircut." Some of the words of that classic go as follows:

    He pecks a few holes in a tree to see
    If a redwood's really red
    And it's nothing to him, on the tiniest whim
    To peck a few holes in your head . . .

    Ho-ho-ho ho ho, ho-ho-ho ho ho
    Oh, that's the Woody Woodpecker song
    Ho-ho-ho ho ho, ho-ho-ho ho ho
    Yeah, he's a-peckin' it all day long

    Though he can't sing a note, there's a frog in his throat
    All his top notes come out blurred
    He's the ladies' first choice, with a laugh in his voice
    He gives all his rivals the bird

The "Ho-ho-ho ho ho's" are not really laughter, but sharp and irritating little screams.

§   §   §

Despite all this, if you are a woodpecker fan like me, and if you order this fat book, you might be charmed as I was by the White-bellied Dryocopus javensis with the classic punk hairdo and dotty look in the eye. Others, equally gorgeous, include the female Hairy Woodpecker, which appears to be a minuscule zebra with wings. It pops up everywhere over North America and Canada. The Cream-Backed Woodpecker [Fig. 3 below] is, however, only found in Bolivia and Paraguay. Its song consists of "double notes, feeble psi-ur or tiss-ue [sounding] like a suppressed sneeze.

Then there is the glorious Greater Yellownape, of Vietnam, Burma, Laos, and Thailand, and the Black-headed Woodpecker with a fine yellow neck and olive-green wings, along with a grey underside . . . while the Yellow-Fronted Woodpecker looks like a Christmas tree, or someone out of San Francisco's annual Folsom Street Fair: yellow throat, rich blue head and wings, zebra underside with a slash of blood red down its front. You have to go to Mato Grosso to find them.

I have friends who have actually seen the Golden Cheeked Woodpecker in person in their winter home in Puerto Ángel. This one also sneezes, Gorman tells us, as follows: "ch-dik" or "keh-eh-eh-ehk."

In conclusion we have to report that there is now a move by animal rights group to change the habits of endangered woodpeckers . . . though not endangered by deforestation or human activity, however.

According to PETA, the thought is that by continually seeking bugs and larvæ in hidden places, these little Picidæ are, in effect, driving themselves bonkers, damaging their tiny bird-brains with their continual drumming on trees, stumps, power-line supports and posts, all in the pursuit of the evening hors d'oeuvre.

PETA is thus seeking volunteers to encourage our little friends to seek other sites for sustenance . . . has even hired behaviorist scientists to try to train these bird-brains to utilize, for example, feeders set out by hummingbird lovers around the world; to convert the woodpeckers from grisly grubs and worms to seeds and sweets . . . ultimately going meatless (as most PETA members are).

One North American branch is paying professional ornithologists and avian specialists --- specialists, that is, in the evolutionary change of passerines --- to begin to alter the very shape of their beaks. The thought is that if we bred out those sharp upper and lower mandibles, our feathered friends could begin to evolve away from bad habits like constantly bashing their little beaks against dense trees, painful exercises that can ultimately drive them potty.

These Friends of the Woodpecker have created a procedure of retrofitting the birds with flexible plastic bills so they can seek nourishment in the many bird-feeders set out by bird-lovers.

We do not yet know the full impact of this, but the fact is that such changes would help to enforce the many differences represented here in this excellent study, pictures of 239 Piciformes worldwide . . . now to be saved from total battiness, a divine present for our children and children's children stretching into the far future.

--- Pamela Wylie
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