Monday, February 05, 2007

American Three-toed Woodpecker

On this day in 1918, Charles Johnston found an American Three-toed Woodpecker near West Englewood in Bergen County. The bird was a male and was carefully described by Johnston, who had previous experience with the species. A few days later, what was probably the same bird was seen by J. M. Johnson's sister; Johnson was a local birder but his sister remains nameless (at least, in the account of the record found in Griscom 1923).

Griscom noted that the winter of 1918 was "the severest winter on record" and gave plenty of bona fides for the observation and Johnston's abilities. However, he placed the woodpecker in the "Hypothetical" section of Birds of the New York City Region, saying, "...the writer feels that a specimen had better be obtained, before so unlikely a species is definitely recorded from New Jersey." This was a sign of the times; although Griscom was an early proponent of sight records, he believed that some birds were too unusual to let their documented occurrence rest only on a sighting.

Were Griscom alive today, he would still be waiting for that specimen. This 1918 observation is the only accepted record of American Three-toed Woodpecker for NJ, and there have only been a couple of other reports of the species in the state (Halliwell et al. 2000).

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