Friday, February 17, 2012

Woodpeckers of North Carolina

In honor of the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which starts today, I am showing off some of my favorite birds that visit the Red House Garden - woodpeckers.  Several varieties of these striking birds live around the area and frequent my bird feeders.  There are eight (or hopefully nine) species of woodpeckers found in North Carolina, and five of those I have seen here at the Red House.  Despite their loud drumming in the early morning on my metal gutters in spring to attract mates and announce their territory, I still enjoy seeing them!

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Melanerpes carolinus

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker
The Red-bellied Woodpecker was the first woodpecker I noticed here.  In the picture above you can just make out the reddish patch on his lower belly for which this woodpecker is named.  I first met him when I opened up the blinds to a window upstairs only to be face-to-face with the startled bird!  He studied me for a long minute, only to go about his business of hiding seeds under my eaves.  This male is quite bold and enjoys all of my bird feeders - he is not very picky!

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker
The female looks much like the male except she does not have red on the very top of her head, only on her nape and at the base of her bill.  The female here is much shyer - if she notices me taking pictures, even from inside the house, she will fly away! 

Interesting fact: A Red-bellied Woodpecker can stick out its tongue almost 2 inches past the end of its beak, and its saliva is also sticky, thus making it easier to snatch insects from deep tree crevices.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Red-headed Woodpecker
The Red-headed Woodpecker is unmistakable with its beautiful red head.  It is impossible to tell if this one is a male or female, though, as the genders look the same.  This one only started visiting a few weeks ago, but now that it has found my bird feeder filled with sunflower chips, I see it every day.   In general, however, this species' numbers have been on the decline due to loss of habitat and other factors.

Interesting fact:  Like the Red-bellied Woodpecker, the Red-headed Woodpecker will store food in crevices of bark or cracks in wood; however, this is the only kind known to cover the food up with bark or wood.  Smart thinking! 

Downy Woodpecker
Picoides pubescens

Male Downy Woodpecker
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in North America, measuring about six inches long.  They are named for the patch of downy feathers between their bill and their forehead.  They are frequent visitors of my suet feeder.  

Female Downy Woodpecker
The male has a red patch on the back of his head, while the female does not.  Downy Woodpeckers are often found in mixed species flocks of birds - they blend right in with the other backyard birds, they are so small!

Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus

Male Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker
Unlike other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker usually prefers to find food on the ground, lapping up insects such as ants with its long tongue.  I only see them occasionally on my suet feeder - they are more likely to be foraging on the ground nearby. 

The female Northern Flicker does not have a black 'moustache'.
There are two races of Northern Flickers. The yellow-shafted form found in the Eastern US has yellow shaft feathers, yellow on the underside of its tail feathers, red at the nape, and the males have a black moustache.  The red-shafted form in the West has red shaft feathers, red on the underside of the tail feathers, and the males have a red moustache.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Sphyrapicus varius

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
This migratory Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was actually hanging out in the wooded lot next door.  They prefer sap, insects, and berries to bird feeders.  Here is a much better picture from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center website:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Smithsonian
Sapsuckers drill holes in trees in order to drink the nutritious sap and eat the insects that are attracted to the sap.  That is not always good news for the tree - however, many other animals benefit from this.  Animals such as bats, porcupines, squirrels, hummingbirds, and many other birds will come to drink the sap as well as eat the lured insects.

Most woodpeckers just drill holes to get insects and don't really harm trees.  They prefer to feed from dead trees or ones that already have an insect problem.  Sapsuckers, on the other hand, will repeatedly drill on the same tree to keep the sap flowing, so if it's one you want to keep, you need to take preventative measures.

Most woodpeckers prefer to nest and feed in dead trees such as this one.
Those are the five types of woodpeckers observed here at the Red House.  The other woodpeckers found in North Carolina are:
the Hairy Woodpecker, which looks like a larger version of the little Downy Woodpecker, the Pileated Woodpecker, which is very large with a fabulous red crest on its head, and the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which prefers to nest in groves of old longleaf pines and thus have declined with the destruction of their habitat.

Pileated Woodpecker
picture from Wikipedia

There is also, very hopefully, one other species of woodpecker that has lived in North Carolina in the past, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  It is possibly extinct due to destruction of habitat.  There were some possible sighting of this woodpecker in Arkansas and Florida several years ago.  So if you see one during the Great Backyard Bird Count, or at anytime at all, take a picture and alert some ornithologists!

Ivory-billed Woodpecker 
picture from Wikipedia
 And don't forget, you can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count
anytime between February 17 - 20!

What birds are usually in your backyard?

22 comments:

  1. Hi Indie - Oh how I hope to some day attract a red-headed woodpecker to our garden. How beautiful it is!

    I have been seeing many cardinals, chickadees and today a purple finch. I'm looking forward to the arrival of our first robin and the return of our mourning doves. It is then that I will be certain that spring is near!

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  2. Such a pretty bird, love the one with red heard :)

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  3. We have a number of woodpeckers up here too, but the more common ones I see are the Downeys. I always see what the yellow bellied sapsucker leaves behind on the trees, but never catch them in the act. That ivory billed woodpecker is a pretty odd looking bird, but pretty in an unusual kind of way.

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  4. Indie, I have bird envy ;) Those redheaded woodpeckers are gorgeous, actually they all are! I love seeing the birds others call local, thanks for sharing! Also thanks for stopping by my blog...Cheers Julia

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  5. Indie -- I like to come here to look at all the birds.

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  6. Love that Red Headed Woodpecker!

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  7. Great information and photos! I still remember how thrilled I was when I looked out the window and saw a huge pileated woodpecker. It was one of the most gorgeous birds I have ever seen. I haven't seen one since!

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    1. I too have seen the Pileated woodpecker in my backyard! The first time I saw him it was only briefly while he was pecking away at my mimosa tree. And just a few minutes ago I saw him again!! this time it was for several minutes and of course I had my binoculars in hand for the event! He is absolutely the most beautiful bird I have ever laid my eyes on!! He was on the ground and I thought it was a rooster at first, he is HUGE!! I am so excited because I have seen him twice on my land and quite close to our home at that! I hope he comes back as often as he likes because it just thrills my soul to see such a beautiful creature!!

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  8. Wow, you have lots of great feathered friends around! At certain times of the year we do, too. My bird feeder doesn't seem to be attracting them lately, though. Maybe as the migrating ones return there will be more activity again. One of my favorites is the cedar waxwing, but they seem to be here for a very short time. Thanks for sharing the great photos!

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  9. We have a lot of woodpeckers due to a natural area nearby. I love watching them! I would love to see a pileated woodpecker and the other North Carolinian woodpeckers someday!

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  10. Those are beautiful woodpecker pictures... When I attempt to shoot mine, I end up with fuzzy long distance shots where nothing much shows.

    I can't hardly even shoot the towhees, they're scratching around in the thicket and blend in...

    The cat scares off the little wrens that are curious enough to come close...

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    1. Thank you! My husband really deserves the credit - he gave me a telephoto lens for my birthday :)

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  11. Can you ship some of these beautiful birds over to the UK please? Fascinating x

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  12. I have some woodpeckers who live in the trees around my house. They at one time were attracted to my car, don't know why. They kept pecking on it so I had to get an owl and put it on my roof all the time. Just recently I was awakened by the knocking sound so I went outside and there was a woodpecker on my house. He has done quite a bit of damage to my eaves. I had to move the owl, from my car, to my porch railing and hope that it will keep the woodpecker away. I live in a log home so I can't have this bird ruining my home. These woodpeckers are really large. I haven't seen any like this in the photo gallery.

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    1. I have woodpeckers that I wish would go away! They have caused so much damage to my house. I can't afford to keep repairing the damage.

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  13. I just saw, and photographed two birds that look very much like the Ivory-billed woodpecker. Is there another bird that looks similar? Big birds... 15" black and white wings with that 'woody woodpecker' look to them. They were, what looked like, playing around the trunk of a tree...
    Darrell Steen
    PO Box 1337
    Angier NC 27501
    910-892-8374
    Angier NC -- Just south of Raleigh

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    1. Ivory-billed Woodpeckers look rather similar to Pileated Woodpeckers (which I didn't have a picture of, as I haven't seen any in my immediate area). I have a link to the Pileated one in the blog, or google it to see if that's what you have pictures of. They are likely Pileated woodpeckers, but that would definitely be phenomenal if you have actually caught a pic of Ivory-billed one! Let me know!

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    2. I went ahead and updated this site with a picture of a Pileated Woodpecker so that it is easier to compare the two woodpeckers.

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  14. Driving through Green Level this afternoon, I saw a red-headed woodpecker fly across the road into the woods. They're easy to spot with their dramatic coloration.

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  15. At my Mom's house in Durham and have a downy woodpecker feeding from her hummingbird feeder several times a day. It is not shy at all, I have been able to get videos and photos from her window about 3 feet away. Fascinated by this little cutie.

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  16. Beautiful pictures! We have had a red headed woodpecker in a tree across the street since January, and today I noticed there are two red headed woodpeckers up there now! I also saw a huge pileated woodpecker when I moved down here, he flew right in front of my car... such a sight!

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  17. out side of my apartment there is a female downy wood pecker

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