Saturday, January 26, 2013


Of all the bird families, I particularly enjoy woodpeckers, along with raptors and waterfowl (ducks and geese). Their colorful patterns and interesting behavior are fascinating and provide endless enjoyment. We are lucky that six of the seven woodpecker species that are seen in our region are resident in and around our yard.

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest. Very confiding, these little birds will wait patiently on nearby branches while we refill the suet feeders. Once in a while I stand very quietly next to the feeder, and the downies come in to feed, just two or three feet away from my face. The male has a small red chevron on the back of his head; you can just glimpse it here:

Downy woodpecker. Stubby bill and proportionately small head.

Downy woodpecker. Note the plain red patch on the nape.

One of my favorite photos.

The Hairy Woodpecker looks much like the Downy, but the larger Hairy is easily distinguished by its size and by its more robust proportions, particularly the large bill. The Hairy is a cautious and wary bird, flying off at the slightest disturbance.

Male hairy woodpecker. Notice the large head and bill.

Like the male Downy, the male Hairy has a red chevron on the nape, but it bisected by a thin black line:
Male Hairy woodpecker. A thin black vertical line bisects the red patch.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker is one of those birds with a seemingly-absurd name. True, there is a slight wash of salmon-rose on the lower belly, but that’s really only visible when the bird is in hand, or if it’s positioned fortuitously. D and I call this the “Scarlet-naped Woodpecker.”

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker. Brilliant scarlet nape.
The female Red-bellied has a scarlet nape, too, though the crown of her head is dove-grey.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker. Scarlet nape and dove-grey crown.

Northern Flickers are among the most elegant birds in our region. Unlike other woodpeckers, they often feed on the ground when there is no snow cover, looking for ants, a favorite food. They also enjoy fruit, such as poison ivy berries, bittersweet, etc. They will come to suet feeders when they can’t find other food. This is a female; a male would have a black moustache mark on the cheek. I occasionally see her in the bitterswet vines over the hedgerow.

Female Northern Flicker
We see Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers at the feeders when the weather is very cold. Like flickers, they enjoy a varied diet, and I’ve also seen them eating berries from the poison ivy and bittersweet vines in our yard. To my eyes, this is an exceptionally beautiful bird, with its gold-spangled plumage and deep red accents. All these photos show a male Sapsucker; we've only had a female visit once, a few years ago.

Though Pileated Woodpeckers live on the wooded hill behind our house, we rarely see them. On occasion we hear their loud calls ringing through the woods. I was surprised and delighted last fall when a pair came through our yard and, one at a time, stopped briefly on our “suet tree.” None of them sampled the suet. I was able to get a few quick photos of the male of the pair.

Female Pileated Woodpecker
I would never expect to see the seventh woodpecker species, the Red-headed Woodpecker, in our yard. They prefer a more open habitat. I've seen them in Kansas and Nebraska, but never in Connecticut.

All images © Quodlibet 2012-2013. All rights reserved. Photos digibinned via IPhone4.

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