By and large, this winter has been notable for the lack of birds we’ve had come by. We just haven’t had many birds since the Week of Water in 2013. (Record-demolishing Storm) We still have most of our feeders up, but we are currently feeding squirrels with occasional house fiches, mourning and collared doves, and starlings dropping in for a few minutes before they dart off again for where ever they’ve been feeding lately.
We had a lovely surprise the other day, though, when a female Downy Woodpecker stopped in. Downy Woodpeckers are one of three woodpecker species that visit our backyard.
Downy Woodpeckers are small black and white birds that cling vertically to the trunks of
Female Downy Woodpecker
trees (or in this case, our suet feeder). Their beaks are short and surprisingly delicate for a bird that makes its living by pounding it into a tree. Males have a red patch on the back of their heads. Downys are common across North America, any place you have trees. They make a call that has been described as a high-pitched whinny.
Hairy Woodpeckers look almost identical to Downy Woodpeckers, with whom they share
Male Hairy Woodpecker with caterpillar in his long sharp beak.
their range. They, too, perch vertically on tree trunks and branches while they listen for insects under the bark. But Hairy Woodpeckers are larger, and have a sturdier chisel-shaped beak almost as long as their heads. Again, male Hairys have a red patch on the back of their heads. Both sexes make a wiki-wiki-wiki call.
Male Downy Woodpecker hunting insects. Notice red patch on base of head.
The most obvious woodpeckers that we see are the red-shafted Northern Flickers. They are medium sized birds with black ladder stripes on their brown backs and black spots on their white fronts. These birds fly with a distinctive flap flap glide method of flight. While they are flapping, they flash the orange-red feathers that give them their names. Male flickers have a red mustache drooping from the corners of their bills.
Male Northern Flicker. You can see a touch of red on the underside of his tail
Flickers are unusual woodpeckers. While they can dig in the bark of a tree trunk, you’ll find the most often on the ground, digging in the soil for insects.
Flickers do have a call — wick-a-wick-a-wick-a — but they often pound on the side of a house to advertise for a mate. They seem to do this in the Spring, most often on the Sunday mornings that you wanted to sleep in. That means that they ought to start pounding away in a month or so.
Yes, there are other colors of Northern Flickers — yellow-shafted Northern Flickers live on the eastern plains to the Atlantic. And there are non-Northern Flickers. Gilded and Cuban Flickers live — you guessed it — in the southwest and southeast respectively.