Subject: "Three-toed Woodpecker"
Date: Aug 17 14:46:56 2002
From: Andy Stepniewski - steppie at


I'd like to share the following message, which appeared on bcintbird today.

Andy Stepniewski
Wapato WA
steppie at


If you want to see a Three-toed Woodpecker, try the Sovereign Lake
cross-country ski parking lot on Silver Star Mountain. Yesterday morning
(Aug 16) what I took to be a male and female were feeding on a live
Engelmann Spruce at the forest edge at the beginning of the short path
leading from the parking lot to Sovereign "Lake" (really a pond).

By the way, this species of woodpecker has gone through several name changes
in its ornithological "career". Back in the 1960s (only Rick Howie, Wayne
Weber, and I are old enough to remember this) the bird was known as
American Three-toed Woodpecker. Then it was called Northern Three-toed
Woodpecker by the American Ornithologists' Union in hopes that the Brits and
European would also adopt the name. The species was thought to occur across
Europe and Asia as well. The Brits and Europeans ignored the American
effort, just as they ignored the Yanks' efforts to rename the "Northern
Harrier" and several other species. More recently the bird was renamed the
Three-toed Woodpecker, and I must have been home sick that day because I
can't recall a reason for the change. NOW, the editors of Handbook of Birds
of the World have split the Old World and New World populations into two
species (based upon "recent molecular data" according to The Birds of North
America account ), and if you follow the Handbook's lead, the NTTW aka TTWO
becomes the American Three-toed Woodpecker once again. However, the
American Ornithologists' Union has not followed the Handbook and is still
calling it the Three-toed Woodpecker. Only well-travelled woodpeckers know
the actual truth.

My sources also tell me that no one woodpecker breeds farther north in the
world than the Three-toed Woodpecker. The BNA account begins with this odd

The Indians dislike this bird. They call it ..."Tikelklala." They have a
legend that this bird, many ages ago, in a time of famine, devoured his
mate, and wiped his claws clean on the back of his head; in proof of which,
they point to the yellow mark of the "fat" which remains till this day. W.H.
Dall and H.M. Bannister (1869).

A charming story about devouring one's mate always lightens the mood, I
find. However, there seems to be a problem. There is no yellow mark on the
back of the woodpecker's head. Yes, I am nit-picking, but...

Anyway, I console myself with a bizarre myth described in the Handbook. The
Handbook is not clear where this legend was told or which species of
woodpeckers it involved, but here it goes: A man who wished to gather
peonies must do so at night, so as to lessen the risk of being seen by a
woodpecker. If a woodpecker sees you gathering peonies in the daytime, you
run the risk of losing your eyes. Also if you cut the root while gathering
peonies in the daytime with a woodpecker watching, your buttocks fall off.
I hate when that happens.

Bye for now,

Chris Siddle.