Woody or wouldn’t he? Only Mel Blanc knows for sure

No disputin’, Rasputins, that Tweety Bird is a canary. Cock-sure Foghorn Leghorn’s a rooster. And the Road Runner? Sold, even if live-action Greater Roadrunners don’t make any sort of “beep-beep” sound (the male sounds alternately like an owl playing maracas, the female like a yapping monkey); they aren’t remotely blue — well maybe a little on the crown and around the eyes; and any self-respecting wily coyote would snap one up as a dessert in a hot desert minute.

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So it’s time to settle once and for all the mystery of Woody Woodpecker. In March 2009, NPR’s All Things Considered bird commentator, Julie Zickefoose, first considered it was “obvious, with his shaggy crest, long beak and wild laugh, that Woody was supposed to be a pileated woodpecker” until, by the end of her column, she regurgitated evidence ascribed to creator-illustrator Walter Lantz — evenly corroborated and refuted on Wikipedia — that he was modeled after the acorn woodpecker. The story goes that Lantz was either entertained or annoyed by acorn woodpeckers on his honeymoon making that hilarious sound …when, in fact, he wasn’t even married on that famed trip, and the sound we associate with Woody was vocal artist Mel Blanc’s sloppy seconds, originally designed for Bugs Bunny.

What’s up with that?

The Birdchick blog followed up with her own investigation:

"As a kid, I always thought he was an ivory-billed woodpecker.  Okay, the ivory-bill isn’t blue and Woody’s white patches don’t match up, but you can’t argue with Woody’s size, his crest and his light colored bill.  When I worked at a wild bird store and we had to listen to bird identification CDs all day, I heard an acorn woodpecker call and it gave the “Ha ha ha HAAA ha” call.  I realized that sounded a little familiar.  Here’s an example that you can hear over at Xeno Canto."

Pretty remarkable that she was pondering ‘toon taxonomy as a kid, when I had trouble keeping Daffy and Donald straight. Turns out that Sharon’s instincts were on target, as she goes on to credit Chilean birding expert Alvaro Jaramillo with solving the mystery by digging through Looney Tunes cartoon cells to find, in a 1964 episode called “Dumb Like a Fox,” Woody’s own discovery that he is of the species Campephilus principalis, or the ivory-billed woodpecker – almost as storied and elusive as Sasquatch, but with far more documention.

I bring it up because, in today’s Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” face-off between the pileated woodpecker and the great blue heron, I wouldn’t want anyone voting for the woodpecker on the basis of preschool propaganda alone. Woody is that rare bird, an amalgamation of our imagination that also most closely resembles the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Ha-ha-ha-HAA-ha!

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