March 06, 2018
On March 1, Noah Perlut, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, served as a special guest at the Bowdoin College library, where he gave a talk about the red-headed woodpecker at a page-turning event to celebrate the college’s copy of the double-elephant folio edition of Birds of America by John James Audubon.
On the first Friday of every month, Bowdoin’s special collections staff turn the page of the edition (one of only about 120 surviving complete sets), whose images were created from engraved plates and then hand colored in watercolor.
Perlut offered insight into the red-headed woodpecker, the image of which was revealed at the March 1 page-turning. He educated attendees about the wide variety of nicknames assigned to this species: white-shirt, half-a-shirt, shirt-tail bird, tricolored woodpecker, jellycoat, flag bird and checkerboard. He also shared that red-headed woodpeckers have an unusual diet of plants (especially nuts) as well as insects that they catch in the air—a feat unique among woodpeckers. The species has experienced a range-wide population decline of 71 percent between 1966 and 2017, falling 2.35 percent annually.
Birds of America was first published as a series in sections between 1827 and 1838. Fewer than 200 copies of the double-elephant folio edition were printed. “Double-elephant folio” refers to the size of the pages, which is approximately 39 by 26 inches.
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