We are fortunate to have seven species of woodpecker in this area, one of which (Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is quite rare, but nevertheless present. Just a little farther south, along the north shore of Lake Erie it can be found much more easily.
Our most common resident is Downy Woodpecker, a diminutive bird that would be considered a pygmy woodpecker in other parts of the world.
This bird can be found on any walk through a woodlot at any time of the year and it is also attracted to backyards with trees. It frequents suet and peanut feeders readily.
As may be seen from the picture below this species is not especially well named. The red smudge on its belly is barely visible and it is from this ignominious patch that the bird takes its name.
Our fourth resident bird is Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus, a large, noisy, dramatic species, which can be surprisingly elusive for a loud, gaudy bird that is not uncommon in the area. I must confess to being spectacularly unsuccessful in photographing this species.
The pictures below give a good idea of the excavating power of Pileated Woodpecker.
Red-headed Woodpecker is extremely rare in Waterloo Region. It is a stunningly beautiful bird and I find it breathtaking every time I encounter one. Whether it is resident or not I am not sure. I have never encountered it in winter, nor has it been recorded on our Christmas bird counts, but this is hardly definitive evidence. Perhaps like the Red-bellied Woodpecker its number will start to swell.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius is a migrant that arrives back in our area in early spring.
This species gets its name from its habit of drilling precise rows of rectangular holes in the bark of trees, to which it returns to feed on the sap oozing out of the wound it has inflicted on the tree. The sweet sap also furnishes a rich source of food for hummingbirds, as well as providing protein for both species in the form of insects trapped in the gooey sap. As you might imagine sapsuckers are not always popular with homeowners whose trees are killed by repeated attacks on the bark.
The seventh and final woodpecker to enrich our avifauna is Northern Flicker Colaptes aurata. Unlike most woodpeckers this very handsome species feeds primarily on the ground, with ants being its preferred diet. Its loud call is reminiscent of Pileated Woodpecker and it takes a little practice to be able to differentiate one from the other.
Northern Flicker comes in two colour variants, the yellow-shafted form we have here and the red-shafted form of the western part of the continent. Flickers are very prone to the behaviour known as anting where the bird spreads its wings to allow ants to circulate through its feather tracts. The ants secrete formic acid which dislodges feather mites and other ectoparasites.
As you may see we are well blessed with a number of attractive woodpeckers here - and there are others to be found elsewhere in the province. It is a very fortunate circumstance for a birder and one in which I rejoice.