Thursday, September 16, 2010


I love woodpeckers and I never get tired of watching them. So it's a real joy that our yard rarely has a day without a visit by at least one species of woodpecker.

My favorite visiting woodpecker is the Downy and we have several. Among the most faithful of all the birds that visit our yards, they love our suet feeders.

As you can see below, female Downys are small birds with beautifully patterned black-and-white plumage.

Male Downys are almost identical in size and plumage, except that they have a red patch of feathers on the back of the head.

If the Downys are among our most loyal yard visitors, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are certainly our most assertive. These large birds fly in confidently, usually making loud squawks that warn all the other birds to move aside.

In this photo you can just see the edge of the red belly patch that gives the species its name.

Both males and females have bright red feathers on their heads, which is why many people here mistakenly call them Red-headed Woodpeckers. The red on the male's head stretches from above the beak right back to the top of the shoulders.

On the female, the red is restricted to a patch above the beak and a larger patch on the back of the head.

Since our Downys are much smaller than our Red-bellieds, they always have to give way to them at the feeders. However, they often wait until the last moment before moving aside!



Paul said...

Hey Jeff,

We live in the Cypress area like you. This year I've had several red headed woodpeckers at my feeders. All summer long we had regular visits from these birds. All had brilliant red heads, then for the past month they started showing up with dark heads. I wonder if these are the fledglings?? I didn't see them before, so I reason the dark head doesn't distinguish the female. But I could be wrong.

Paul in Cypress.

Jeff said...

Hi, Paul.
Do you mean Red-headed or Red-bellied? Adult Red-headed WPs have a red head, black upper back and white lower back. (Basically 1/3 of each color.) The young have a blackish head and have a white patch on their lower back.