Bird Report: Be On The Lookout For Woodpeckers

Bird Report: Be On The Lookout For Woodpeckers


Every day, I see or hear woodpeckers. They are very fond of peanuts, so I often have several different ones visit my feeder and fly off to either eat their snack or cache it for later. Like squirrels and their hidden food, I’m not sure the birds find all of the stored ones, but if not then something else will benefit.

Downey Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers are difficult to identify at a distance, but up close you can look for some “field marks” that can help tell one from the other. Hairys (the larger of the two species) and Downeys have similar colors, but look at their beaks. Hairy beaks are about as long as the bird’s head from front to back while Downeys’ are smaller. If you have both in your neighborhood, you can learn the rates of their drumming or their calls to tell them apart.   

We have several other woodpeckers around like Flickers, Pileateds, Sapsuckers and Red-bellieds.   

The Red-bellied Woodpecker has a subtle pink belly, but it is very hard to notice this part of the bird unless it is on a feeder right outside your window. The male has a large portion of its head covered in red feathers, so why isn’t it called a Red-headed Woodpecker? Well, that name was already taken by a bird with a truly, completely red head.    

The Red-headed Woodpecker’s range used to be the southern states into the Rocky Mountains and up to the Canadian border. Somehow, they never made it across the Hudson River until a few years ago when one was spotted in Southbury. This spring, one was discovered at Hammonasset Beach. It is smaller than the Red-bellied or the Pileated, but you can’t miss its red head, which extends from its black back over its entire head down to its upper chest. Its underparts are white with a black tail; its wings are black with a large white patch. Unlike most woodpeckers, it usually catches its food on the wing, or on the ground eating insects, spiders, mice, fruit and grains. It has also been known to steal other birds’ eggs. The only time it bores holes, with the help of its mate, is when there is a need for a nesting cavity. It will sometimes use nesting boxes designed for woodpeckers and will come to feeders for corn, suet, sunflower seeds, bread, raisins, and nuts.

So if you are confused by the number of woodpeckers in our area and how to identify them, I added one more to the list, but it is one that is so much easier to know. I hope a Red-headed woodpecker shows itself around here, since I have never seen one in Connecticut. It would be really special.

Happy Birding!


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