Monday, 30 November 2015

The Seven Woodpeckers of Waterloo Region

      I am sure that many birders, not even birders in fact but people who appreciate nature, enjoy woodpeckers. For me, no matter how many times I glance out the window to see a Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens on the suet feeder, or pecking away at peanuts, there is always a surge of pleasure involved.
    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.


Male
     In the following picture the nictitating membrane can be seen quite clearly as it is drawn across the eye to prevent damage from flying wood chips or other potentially harmful material.



     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.


Female
     The Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus is our next most common resident species. It resembles nothing so much as a Downy on steroids! Its colouration is basically identical but it is larger and has a longer, sturdier bill.


Male
     Novice birders are often perplexed by the two species and have trouble separating them. To add to the confusion their vocalizations are quite similar. A little practice in the field resolves this dilemma, however, and before long the two species are easily identified one from the other.


Female
      Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus is a stunning woodpecker that has become increasingly common in recent years as its range expands northwards. The last two winters in Waterloo Region have been quite severe but this species seems to handle the conditions without suffering any decline in numbers. I have actually seen more Red-bellied Woodpeckers than Downy Woodpeckers on walks recently, a situation unheard of in years past. 



   
     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.


Male
Female

Male



    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.


Male

Male feeding on ants


Female

       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.

26 comments:

  1. Wow, what a variety of woodpeckers.
    Beautiful to see, especially with the whole red haircut .
    Beautifully photographed David.
    Greetings Tinie

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  2. Una mágnifica serie fotográfica sobre pájaros carpinteros, me ha gustado mucho. Un fuerte abrazo desde España.

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  3. Great post! I'm going to have to watch more carefully to see all seven of those.

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    1. This can be your challenge for next year!

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  4. Ohoh ! tous ces pics sont superbes. je voudrai es même ! Quelle chance.
    Bravo et merci David ! :)

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  5. For me, this is definitely one of your most impressive posts to date, David. It combines delightful images with useful and alluring information. - And it's featuring a family of birds that is probably ranked only second favourite to my beloved owls! Thank you for this tantalising insight - I'll be with you shortly!

    Best wishes to you both - - Richard

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    1. With luck, Richard, and a little diligence we should be able to find all of them for you - five for sure. And if we take a day (and we will) to go down to Rondeau Provincial Park Red-headed should nail down the sixth. Pileated is possible anywhere, but by no means easy to locate.

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  6. Hey David,
    What a great pictures.
    So fantastic to see these woodpeckers. They are is wonderful with their bright colors.

    Greetings, Marco

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  7. Indeed David you are blessed with such a variety of Woodpeckers. They are stunning! The Pileated Woodpecker is impressive for the excavating work he dous. Thank you for all the information of these birds as well. Most interesting.
    Take care,
    Roos

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  8. Stunning collection David,lovely detail.
    John.

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  9. Wow seven species must be great. We get 6 here (one is very rare though). The UK only gets 3!

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    1. Yeah, and Lesser-spotted is pretty hard to find in the UK.

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  10. Some beautiful images there. You are lucky to have them all. We don't have woodpeckers at all in Australia, and I do love seeing them when I'm overseas!

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  11. WOW, all those different peckers in the same post!!
    Very impressive and interesting.
    The Red-headed Woodpecker is indeed quite extraordinary with the 3 dictinctive colors.
    Well done David :)
    Huge hugs to share with Miriam

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    Replies
    1. I am not sure there isn't a little double entendre here!!

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  12. You must feel like the brave little birder, seven in one garden!!!
    I am pleased by seeing just a woodpecker!
    Great pictures of all these species, David.
    Gr Jan W

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  13. Beautiful pictures and wonderful reading. Always a pleasure to visit here. Mr David I have your blog as my Blog list. Don't really want to miss an update especially from a birder like you.
    http://cheemablog.blogspot.com

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  14. Dearest David,
    Yes, Woody the Woodpecker as I love to call him is a joy to watch. We too have the downy woodpeckers frequent our suet feeders. We both loved the photo where you show the special eye. Never had observed that of course. Excellent photography.
    Enjoy your weekend.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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  15. Your blog is a million times more helpful than most of my bird books! And the pictures are better! I've seen all of these except the sapsucker, but didn't know all those facts. The Flucker I've seen in Oregon and the Pileated in both Oregon and Florida. The rest of the woodies only in. Florida... But they might be in Oregon too... I do just love seeing them and as you comment, I'm a kind of accidental birder ( I wish I were able to be more professional).

    I want to thank you for the compliment on my picture of the geese fling in the sunset. Your words meant a great deal to me ... It is as if YoYo Ma complimented a beginning student! Thank you!

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  16. Your photographs made me feel quite nostalgic there David. On my visits to Canada I managed to see six out of seven of those wonderful 'peckers. Even got to ring the same ones. However the Pileated eluded me on both counts but I did get to see the enormous holes which your fellow countrymen assured me were genuine.

    As I saw evidence of your Pileated Woodpecker via your photograph I can rest in peace knowing that such creatures do exist. Unless of course you climbed that tree with an axe in hand and then doctored your picture via Photoshop to include the said woodpecker?

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    Replies
    1. You gotta come back here and see them again.

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  17. Dear David,
    it's very nice to see all these different kind of woodpeckers; some real beautiful pictures too.
    Best regards, Corrie

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  18. Wonderful!!!. A beautiful photos ..Congratulations ..

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  19. Wonderful birds! I love woodpeckers. Just hearing their sound in the forest makes me happy. :-)

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  20. God damn !!!!! I became quite jealous of this beautiful pictures of the woodpeckers. Really great to be able to photograph it. When you are next to the woodpecker also more beautiful woodpeckers. I have only been able to photograph the great spotted woodpecker. Beautiful pictures David
    My compliments.

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