Pileated Woodpecker Wednesday!

Today is our last Woodpecker Wednesday for the autumn season. I can’t believe winter is officially only one week away! A weekly dedication to woodpeckers was really enjoyable for me to write, but I’m also looking forward to the return of Waterfowl Wednesday. Speaking of waterfowl, on Sunday Dave and I added 4 species of waterfowl to our life list at Long Beach Island. I can’t wait to tell you all about it (post will be coming soon about that).

On November 14, 2015 I achieved one of my birding dreams: to see a Pileated Woodpecker. (It was one of my best birding moments so far, and you can read about it here at Pileated Dreams). My fascination with Pileated Woodpeckers started long before I ever saw one, and has only increased over time as I eagerly await the moment I find another one. Here are some interesting facts about this awe-inspiring bird.

  • The Pileated Woodpecker is the 6th largest woodpecker in the world, and the largest in North America. It’s about the size of a crow, but despite being so big it’s more often heard than seen.
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Pileated in Flight (Image by NatureMan via birdsandblooms)
  • Like the Northern Flicker, Pileateds primarily eat ants. Their diet also consists of a variety of insects, nuts, and fruit. They occasionally eat at suet feeders. (Quick side note: if you watch Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s online Feeder Cam, you can sometimes see a Pileated show up at their suet feeder. It’s quite a sight!)
  • They are known for making large, rectangular cavities in dead trees. Pileateds depend on a variety of habitats, but mostly mature deciduous or coniferous forests. Cavities can be deep and up to a foot long. They use the tunnels within the cavity of catch beetle larvae with their long tongues. To hammer, Pileateds pull their necks back far from the tree and pull on the trunk with their feet to make a heavy blow.
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Pileated cavity at Rancocas Nature Center, NJ (Image by BirdNation)
  • Pileateds are pretty distinctive, so they are not usually confused with other species. Sometimes they are confused with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are larger than Pileateds, and although also jet black, have large white wing patches on the outer wing. Pileateds have large white patches under their wings. The both have bright red crests, but the Pileated has malar stripes. It’s unknown if the Ivory-billed is extinct at the moment, so it’s more than likely that you’re seeing a Pileated.
  • How can you tell the difference between a male and female? The male’s red crest extends down to his upper mandible, while the female’s forehead is a dusky grayish-brown. The male’s malar stripes are red and the female’s stripes are black.
  • They hold large territories; spanning as far as one mile or more for a single pair. Pairs are usually monogamous and mate for life. They defend their territory throughout the year. Defense strategies include raising their crest, drumming, calling, and displaying the white patch under their wings.
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A mated pair (male left, female right) Image by By AndrewBrownsword – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4348147

I hope you enjoyed Woodpecker Wednesday! What’s your favorite North American woodpecker? Tell me about it in the comments! The Pileated is mine (obviously! :-P)

 

Lewis’s Woodpecker Wednesday

Time for another Woodpecker Wednesday! Today’s featured bird is the fascinating Lewis’s Woodpecker. The species was spotted by Meriwether Lewis while camping on the Kooskooske River in Idaho in 1806 on his famed expedition with William Clark. Lewis named this species the “Black Woodpecker”, but ornithologist Alexander Wilson later renamed this woodpecker in honor of Lewis. The Lewis’s Woodpecker is unique from other woodpecker species in many ways.

Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)

Description:

The Lewis’s Woodpecker is North America’s only green-colored woodpecker. Males and females are sexually monochormatic . This means that the sexes are identical, but slightly differ in size. This makes figuring out a Lewis’s sex in the field extremely difficult, unless you know the male’s vocalizations. Their backs, wings, heads, and tails are a solid greenish-black, with no white patches like other woodpecker species. Their bellies are a salmon pink or red. The Lewis’s breast and collar are a silver gray, and their faces are dark red. In flight they look black and look like a small corvid (like a jay or crow). Juveniles are darker and lack the gray collar/breast and red face.

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Lewis’s Woodpecker (Image by Classic Collection of North American Birds at bird-of-north-america.net)

Range:

Scattered throughout mountainous regions of the America West. Winters in the Southwest and breeds (summers) in the Northwestern United States and parts of Western Canada.

Habitat:

Open habitats; scattered forests with large trees and numerous perches, river groves, foothills, burned forests; oak, cottonwood and ponderosa pines

Diet:

Unlike other woodpeckers, Lewis’s are aerial foragers. Although they sometimes glean insects off of tree barks, they mainly catch insects using acrobatic aerial displays like a flycatcher. This is why it’s important for their habitat to have a lot of high perches for foraging. In autumn they harvest acorns and other nuts, break them apart to store in crevices, and defends their makeshift granaries.

Breeding/Nesting:

Courtship displays by the male include bill pointing (away from the potential mate), circular flights, and wing spreading. Males will establish the territory first and the female will select the nesting cavity. Nesting cavities are used multiple years in a row, in either a natural cavity or one made by another woodpecker species. Breed pairs stay monogamous for around 4 years.

Both sexes incubate between 6-7 eggs for about 12-16. They share parenting duties once the young hatch and will both defend the nest cavity. Young fledge about 4-5 weeks after hatching and will stay with the parents awhile after.

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Lewis’s Woodpecker (Image by Mac Knight via Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife)

Sounds:

During breeding, males use 3 kinds of calls: chatter (similar to a dolphin call), call notes, and screech (skeer! or keea!). They drum much less than other woodpeckers.

Conservation:

Lewis’s populations have decreased over the past few decades, making them more erratic and hard to monitor. Population declines are due to habitat destruction and fire suppression of pine forests. They are on the 2016 State of  North America’s Birds’ Watch List and being watched closely by environmental groups. In Oregon, Lewis’s have been successful breeding in artificial nest boxes to help increase populations.

Fun Facts:

  • A Lewis’s Woodpecker specimen that is found in the Harvard Museum of Natural History is the only in-tact biological specimen from Lewis and Clark’s 1804-1806 expedition.
  • Lewis’s Woodpeckers can catch multiple insects on a single flight.
  • Most woodpeckers have a flight pattern of 3 flaps and a glide. Lewis’s flight pattern is more direct. When feeding they will glide down from a high perch. To return to a perch, the Lewis’s will flap continuously.

Gilded Flicker Wednesday

Hello friends! Today’s featured woodpecker is the Gilded Flicker.

Gilded Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides)

Description:

Gilded Flickers are medium-sized woodpeckers, who look similar to their cousin, the Northern Flicker. Gilded Flickers are smaller than Northern Flickers, and seem to take a characteristic of each Northern variations. Gilded Flickers have yellow wings like the “Yellow-shafted” Northern and gray heads/red malar (cheek) stripes like the “Red-shafted” Northern. Female Gilded lack the malar stripes. Unlike they Northern, they have cinnamon brown foreheads. Their upperparts are “zebra-backed” and brown. Their underparts are gray and spotted. Gilded Flickers have a black crescent-shaped spot on their chests. Their yellow wings and white rump are conspicuous in flight. Juveniles are smaller and paler than adults.

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Adult Gilded Flicker (Image via CCNAB, birds-of-north-america.net)

Range:

Southwestern Arizona, northwestern Mexico, all of Baja California excluding the northwest corner. Very rare in southeastern California and southern Nevada

Habitat:

common in Sonoran habitats, desert uplands, riparian woodlands with willows and cottonwoods along streams and rivers

Food:

Mainly ants, insects, berries, nuts, seeds, fruit. Forages on the ground, along trees and cacti.

Breeding:

Males defend the territory by head/wing flicking, drumming, calling, and tail-spreading. Nest cavities are usually in saguaro cacti, but sometimes in cottonwood or willow trees. 4 to 5 eggs are incubated by both sexes for about 11 days. The young are fed mainly by regurgitation from the parents. Young fledge about 4 weeks after hatching, and will follow parents to foraging sites.

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Gilded Flicker in Arizona (Image by NPS via new.science360.gov)

Sounds:

a series of kee! notes, wik-wik-wik calls, drumming

Conservation:

Gilded Flickers are considered climate-threatened. Other threats include habitat destruction, urbanization, and European Starlings competing for nest cavities. They are still fairly common in their habitat. More research is needed about this woodpecker to help maintain populations.

Fun Facts:

  • Gilded, “Yellow-shafted” and “Red-shafted” Flickers used to be considered one species, called the Common Flicker.
  • There is a small population of Gilded and “Red-shafted” Northern Flicker hybrids.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Wednesday

This week’s featured woodpecker is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. It is one of North America’s four sapsucker species. This sapsucker is the most migratory woodpecker in the world.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Description:

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are small (7.5-9 inches) with straight bills and a pied facial pattern. Both sexes have a red forehead and white napes. Males have bright red throats, solid black malar (cheek) stripe, a black bib, and pale yellow was on the breast. Females have pale white throats, black malar stripes, and a black bib. Adults of both sexes have black and mottled white bodies with a solid white stripe down their folded wings. Juveniles are a dusky brown with a yellowish belly and gray heads. They also feature a white wing stripe.

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Adult male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Image by Dick Daniels/wikimedia commons, found via Boreal Songbird Initiative’s website)

Range:

Summer (breeding): as far North as eastern Alaska and across the boreal forests of Canada, parts of New England, and Adirondack Mountains. Migration: Midwest United States. Winter: Eastern and Southeastern United States, and goes as far south as Central America (down to Panama) and the Caribbean

Habitat:

deciduous forests, mixed coniferous woodlands, aspen groves, orchards

Diet:

tree sap, insects,  berries, and other fruits. True to their names, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill neatly organized sapwells in horizontal rows. The trees they choose to drill have a higher concentration of sugar in the sap, and are usually sick or wounded. Aspens, Paper birch, sugar maple, and hickory trees are a few of the tree species they drill. They drill throughout the year to keep the sap fresh on both their wintering and breeding grounds. Sometimes they will catch insects in mid-air after perching from a branch, similar to flycatchers.

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Sapwells (Image by Mike Lathroum via marylandbiodiversity.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

Males arrive at the breeding territory a week before females to scout out a drumming post. The female and male will scurry around the tree trunk together while tapping a potential excavation site. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are monogamous. Like other woodpeckers, these Sapsuckers are cavity nests. They usually use the same tree for up to 7 years, but will use a different cavity in that tree each year.

Females lay between 5-6 (sometimes 3-7) eggs per year and started incubating around the third or fourth. Males and females will share incubation duties for around 12-13 days. The young fledge 25-29 days after hatching. The parents will teach the young sapsucking skills for around 10 days after leaving the nest.

Sounds:

Quieter during the winter but pretty vocal during breeding. A repeated nasal mewing meehhr!, a quee-ah, queeah! scratchy call. Drumming is typically done by males.

Conservation:

In the past, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers received a bad reputation for damaging and drilling in timber in the Eastern United States. Due to forest clear-cutting numbers declined, but recently have increased and are more widespread.  It’s estimated that there is a global population  10 million breeding pairs by the organization Partners in Flight. It’s possible that the population is higher than pre-settlement times. Although more common, they are still consider climate-threatened.

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Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Image by Greg Lavaty via Seattle Audubon)

Fun Facts:

  • Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are one of the three sapsuckers in the varius superspecies. The other two sapsuckers in varius are the Red-breasted and Red-naped Sapsuckers. These species have been known to hybridize in certain areas of the west. The fourth North American sapsucker, the Williamson’s, is more genetically different than the other sapsucker superspeices. Studies show they are the most ancestral of the four sapsuckers in the Sphyrapicus genus.
  • These sapsuckers make two different holes to access sap. Small round holes are made deep in the trunk, which are used to reach the sap. Rectangular holes that are shallower must be maintained to keep the sap flowing.
  • Hummingbirds are attracted to the sapwells that Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers make. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have become so depend on these sapwells that they will time their spring migration to when the sapsuckers arrive.
  • The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the logo for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary is names for this species. It was in Sapsucker Woods that Arthur Allen (the Lab’s founder) and artist Lous Agassiz Fuertes discovered the first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest in the Finger Lakes area of New York in 1909. Fuertes later named this spot Sapsucker Woods. (story found in the Lab’s publication Living Bird, winter 2015 edition)

 

World of Woodpeckers

Happy Woodpecker Wednesday! I thought I’d do something a little different for our feature this week. Instead of a species profile, today’s post is going to be facts about woodpeckers in general. I think as a bird blog, it’s important to do species profiles to educate others on specific birds (big groups like Audubon and Cornell Lab do “bird of the week” features too).

But every once in awhile, you just want to mix things up. And I’m in that kind of mood today. So here are 10 wonderful facts about woodpeckers.

  • There are between 180-200 woodpecker species found throughout the world. Some species are possibly extinct, but since these extinctions haven’t been confirmed, it’s hard for scientists to get a more exact count.
  • Woodpeckers can be found on almost every continent, except Australia and the extreme polar regions. They are also not present in Madagascar, New Zealand, and New Guinea. Most species live in woodland areas, but a few live in deserts and rocky hillsides.
  • Woodpeckers are part of the family Picidae, which is one of the eight families in the order Piciformes. There are four subspeices of the family Picaidae which include sapsuckers, wrynecks, and piculets.
  • The smallest woodpecker in the world is the Bar-breasted Piculet. Adults are around 3 inches (7.5 cm) and weight about 0.28 to 0.35 ounces (8 to 10 grams). They are found in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia.
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Bar-breasted Piculet (Image by Joao Quental via peruaves.org)
  • The largest woodpeckers in the world are the Ivory-billed (around 20 inches) and Imperial (between 23-25 inches). However, both may be extinct. The largest confirmed woodpecker is the Great Slaty Woodpecker, which is around 20 inches and live in Southeast Asia.
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Imperial Woodpecker specimens (Image by Fritz Geller-Grimm via wikimedia commons)
  • Woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet. This means that they have 2 toes facing forward and 2 facing the rear. Many birds, such as waders and passerines, have 3 forward and one facing backwards. Being zygodactl helps woodpeckers climb trees vertically and gives them exception grip since their talons are so long.
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Woodpecker Feet illustration (via Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta,GA)
  • How can woodpeckers drum on trees without hurting their heads? Their skulls are thick and have sponge-like bone in the front and rear of the cranium. This helps them protect the brain by spreading the impact force. The nictitating membrances (a.k.a “thrid eyelid”)close a millisecond before impact to protect their eyes. They also have special bristled feathers that cover their nostrils from flying debris.
  • A woodpecker can peck at an average of around 20 pecks per second. That’s around 8000-12,000 pecks per day!
  • Woodpeckers have long tongues, which vary in shape depending on a species diet. Woodpeckers have a  hyoid apparatus (a set of two narrow bones, muscle, and cartilage). The hyoid allows the tongue to extend to great lengths. It wraps around the base and over the top of the skull.
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Diagram of a woodpecker tongue (Illustration by Denise Takahashi via birdwatchingdaily.com)
  • The most common flight pattern for woodpeckers is 3 flaps and a glide.

 

What is your favorite species of woodpecker? Tell me in the comments below.