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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 31, 2004 - Issue 118


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Bishinik, The Little Chahta News Bird


by Choctaw Legend



According to Choctaw legend, when the "returning waters" (that is the Choctaw term for the Great Flood) came, two birds, Bishinik (a small, speckled, scissortail species of Woodpecker), and Folichik (the scissortail fly catcher), were the only two birds to escape drowning by flying as high as they could and perching upside-down upon the sky. As it was, the waters came so high that the birds' tails hung down where the dashing waters caused their tail feathers to separate, thus making them split, or scissortail.

Because of their bravery, the two birds were blessed by creator, and because Bishinik was grateful for this blessing, Creator decreed that Bishinik would always be a special friend to his people, the Choctaw. To the Choctaw, Bishinik was the friendliest of birds, was accorded special treatment, and became known as "the little Chahta news bird".

Bishinik would live around Choctaw homes and let them know whenever someone was approaching. The friendly little woodpecker was also believed to accompany hunting parties or war parties when they went into the field. Bishinik would warn the warriors of the approach of an enemy, or would indicate to them when game was near and in which direction they should travel to find this game. Should an enemy force approach an encampment of Choctaw Warriors during the hours of darkness, Bishinik would warn them by tapping out messages on trees about the camp. Bishinik is honored to this day, as the tribal newspaper bears his name!

Print and Color Your Own Downy Woodpecker Maze

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Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Cool fact: Male and female Downy Woodpeckers use separate foraging strategies during the winter. Males tend to feed in the tops of trees on branches that are smaller in diameter, whereas females feed in midlevel and lower sections of the tree on branches that are larger in diameter. Males aggressively maintain this segregation by chasing away any bird that attempts to feed near them.

Downy Woodpeckers are approximately 6.5 inches (16 centimeters) in length. A relatively small woodpecker with a short, chisel-shaped bill, Downy Woodpeckers have plumage that is a sharply contrasting pattern of blacks and whites.

The Downy Woodpecker is the most common North American woodpecker, and also the woodpecker reported most frequently by Project FeederWatch participants. During the 1996-1997 Project FeederWatch season, more than 69 percent of the participants reported Downy Woodpeckers, making them the fourth most common Project FeederWatch bird.

Description: Downy Woodpeckers have a black forehead and crown; males have a red patch on their nape (see drawing below), whereas females have a white patch on their nape. A wide white supercilium with a broad black band extends through the eye to the ear coverts, then down the neck. The lores, beneath the eye, and the sides of the neck are white. The black moustachial stripe extends to the neck. The chin, throat, and undersides are white. The lower neck, sides of the mantle, rump, and uppertail coverts are black. The back is almost entirely white. The upper coverts and flight feathers are black with large white spots. Variation exists in the extent of these white spots on the wing: Pacific Northwest, southwestern, and southern races show little white on the wings. The upper tail feathers are black, with all but the central feathers having white tips, which increase in amount toward the outertail. The typically prominent black bars on the white outer tail feathers vary in size. The undertail coverts are white with black spots.

The Downy Woodpecker breeds over a widespread area encompassing most of North America, except for the extreme Southwest and areas below treeline. Six recognized races of Downy Woodpeckers exist.

Fun Facts:

  • Downy woodpeckers create nest hole openings that are concealed by fungus or lichens.
  • Each bird digs its own winter roost.
  • Downies are one of the few woodpeckers that will come to feeders.
  • Downie’s nests are lined with woodchips. The young are altricial and remain dependant on the adults for up to 3 weeks for food and bodily warmth.
  • The males does most of the brooding.
  • Woodpeckers may hammer on a tree as much as 10 times a minute.
  • Their brain is protected from shock by a pad of spongy elastic material between their bill and their skull.
  • Special feathers around their nostrils keep them from breathing in wood chips.
  • Spines on the ends of their stiff tail feathers act as braces as they climb or drill.
  • Legend has it the red patch on the head of the male bird inspired legends with many Native America tribes across the United States, from being a fire detective to bearer of a warrior's badge of courage. This diminutive bird has been a symbol of bravery and hard work.

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