Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nature Guide: Woodpeckers

Once upon a time . . . before I lived in Princeton Landing, I had bird feeders that brought great joy—and many birds. I especially enjoyed watching the different kinds of woodpeckers at this time of year as they hung acrobatically on the suet feeders and trees. There are 22 species of woodpecker found in the US; most live in woodlands like ours. Our Nature Guide Jon Latimer describes four species commonly found in our area.

“Our smallest species, the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), is about the size of a sparrow. It has a black-and-white checkered pattern on its wings and white stripes on its head and neck. Males have a narrow area of red on the nape of their neck. Downy Woodpeckers are active and acrobatic feeders. In winter they often join mixed feeding groups with chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. In spring and summer they tend to forage alone, noisily drumming on trees and making their shrill whinnying call.

“The Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) can be easily confused with its close relation the Downy. Both are very similar in color and shape, except the Hairy is bigger (about the size of a robin) and has a longer beak. Both species occur together throughout most of their ranges, but the Hairy is less common. Also, the Hairy Woodpecker tends to spend more time on the trunks of trees, while the Downy will search for food on smaller branches.

"There is no confusion about identifying the slightly larger Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). It has a pale grayish underside, striking black-and-white bars on its back and wings, and a distinctive red cap. In flight its wings have white patches near the tips. Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat insects, seeds and nuts. They usually search for food in deciduous trees, but they also forage on the ground. A Red-bellied Woodpecker will sometimes wedge a large nut into a bark crevice, then whack it into bite-sized pieces with its beak.

"The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is about the size of a pigeon. Its brown and gray feathers are marked by an unmistakable pattern of black and white stripes. It uses its long, slightly downward-curving beak to dig up ants and beetles, so don't be surprised if you scare one up off the ground. The flash of a broad patch of white on its tail feathers and the yellow (in the East) or red (in the West) on the undersides of the wings are easy identification marks. Like most woodpeckers, Northern Flickers drum on objects to communicate and to defend their territory. The goal seems to be to make as much noise as possible. Last spring one of our local flickers outdid itself. It could be heard more than a half a mile away drumming on a metal silo near the D&R Canal."

All photos by Ken Thomas, except Hairy Woodpecker by Mdf


Anonymous said...

I've had 4 visiting yellow guilded woodpecker visiting eating on the ground ants and things today they brought with them a female Downy as there's no red on it I live near the river and have old trees down back .They have no problem sharing with the blackbirds,, squirrels,titmouse and all them
Penobscot River,Old Town ,Me.