I was sitting in my study listening to the pied fly-catcher singing one of his seven thousand little songs with which each day he adds to the joy of May, when a new voice came from the woodland near me.  It was not an English voice, it might have been Russian by the constant “tchick” in its vocabulary, and Russian probably it was, for, as I soon learned, the bird was none other than the great spotted-woodpecker, which might have come all the way from Russian woodlands or Siberian steppes to honour my lakeland grove with his presence. (p. 605)….

Happy in the possession of a bride he has to-day, May 14th, fixed upon his abode.  He has found a birch tree whose head was lost in the wind, that stands up like a bare pole to the height of 30 to 40 feet (p. 605)…. Very silently do they work these birds.  It is only when they are away from the tree feeding that they talk Russian at all one to the other.  But there are times when apparently from access of animal spirits and joy in their accomplished work, both Mr. and Mrs. Woodpecker play a kind of tattoo upon the tree, which hallowed out as it is now for the nest, sounds very much as a far-off wooden drum might sound, such as a wild man of the woods in Africa uses. (p. 606)

On Monday the 21st, the woodcraft ceased, and Mrs. Woodpecker began her task of egg laying.  Then absolute silence fell upon the woodland.  No birds were seen to come to or leave the tree.  As far as appearances went the nest had been deserted.  But my wise fried, the naturalist, said, “Oh that is just part of their dodge.  That is woodpecker artifice.  They want you to believe the nest is deserted.” (p. 606)

The naturalist was right.  In a fortnight’s time, about June 11th, it was quite clear something has happened, for now the birds were seen flying to and fro, noiseless of voice and wing.  There was no crying one to the other, but the undulating flight of the bird in the meadows near by, made it quite certain that the woodpecker was searching for food, and whenever we approached the tree, however hidden we believed ourselves to be, the alarm note “tchick-tra” was given. (p. 606)

Suddenly, about June 18th, the youngsters asserted themselves, and such a continual noise was heard from hungry voices demanding supplies as filled the woodland with sound and wonder.  I could not have believed it possible for any young bird throats to make such whizzing, as of giant grass-hoppers, mixed with the cry of metallic sound as of clock wheels going round and round.  This in turn mingled with screams and squeaks as of elfs in pain—a sound that seemed to possess the whole tree, so that when one approached it one could not say whether it came from the air, the ground, or the tree.  It began at 3-30 in the morning, and did not end till the last caterpillar was delivered at 9-30. (pp. 606-7)

During this time the indefatigable parent birds were constantly working to find food for their insatiable young.  I timed the visits and found that each bird brought a caterpillar in turn every minute, that is to say that during a day not less than eighteen hours in length, the young were fed with 1,080 caterpillars, and knowing as I did that the caterpillar pest was abroad, I should have been glad if there had been bot one, but twenty woodpeckers’ nests in the garden-ground. (p. 607)

On Thursday 21st, about 5-30 in the morning, the culminating cries and whizz ceased, and the old birds must have felt love’s labour rewarded by sight of three little creatures with crimson flush on their heads able to take wing and escape from their prison house.  For the next week we heard five instead of two birds talking Russian in different parts of the garden-grove.  How many eggs were laid I cannot say.  I had no means of examining the nest, short of sawing off a portion of the trunk, and I was unwilling to do this lest in future years these strange and beautiful birds should rebuke me, but I am wondering at this day why they were not content with one hold for their nest.  The woodpeckers had made two.  Is it that like the rabbit, nature has taught them it is wise to have a bolt-hole for escape?  What is certain is, that they used either door-way for their nest, both for access and for egress, though so far as could be observed, they only fed their nestlings from one, and that the lower one.  It was a real sorrow to find a few days later the burying beetles hard at work giving sepulchre to the body of one of the young woodpeckers about 12 feet from the tree.  My gardener tells me he believed it was worried to death by some starlings.  Of this I cannot speak with certainty, but those who have seen an owl mobbed can understand that the starling in mischief would hurt anything looking so ridiculously strange, and anything so apparently defenceless. (p. 607)

A Naturalist friend tells me, he thinks that there were probably six young woodpeckers hatched out and that we were misled as to numbers, by reason of the fact that when the young leave the nest the father and mother-birds divide the brood between them, and take them to different feeding grounds.  He also said that all the young are rosy-headed, but that after the first moult the cock-birds alone retain the scarlet head-dress. (p. 607)

(Parents’ Review, XXVIII (October 1917), 605-7.)