Woodpecker Week

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Hi all! It was woodpecker week at Bird House Love! I had the pleasure of capturing some fun shots of a male and female red-bellied woodpecker and even a male yellow-shafted northern flicker this week! I have come across a female and male downy woodpecker before but this is the first time I saw the red-bellied crew and the northern flicker!

So! How do you tell them apart? Here are some distinguishing features:

Let’s start with Mr. and Mrs. Downy. Downy woodpeckers are the smallest in North America. Their upperparts and the top of their wings are black while the lower part of their wings have white speckles. They actually have black speckles on the white part of the underside of their tail. Downy woodpeckers also have white on their throats and bellies and above and below their eyes. Lastly, the male has a red patch on the back of his head that distinguishes him from his female counterpart. Females are identical but are missing the red patch.

One more item to note about the downy, is that its bill is shorter than its head. This feature, along with the black speckles on the white part of its tail, helps to distinguish the downy woodpecker from the hairy woodpecker which is nearly identical in coloring although slightly larger than the downy. The hairy woodpecker’s bill is approximately the same length as its head. Male and female hairy woodpeckers share the same distinction as the downy in that the male has a red patch on the back of its head while the female does not. Although very similar in coloring, the downy and hairy woodpeckers are not closely related.

Now for the red-bellied woodpecker. I feel the most iconic feature of a red-bellied woodpecker is not actually its red belly! I wasn’t even able to see a red belly on the male and females that I saw. Per online guides, the red patch on their bellies is about the size of a quarter but is oftentimes difficult to see during field identification. Their red head feathers are the standout that actually helps to identify them in the wild. The male has a red patch from the bill to the nape of his neck while the female’s red head patch extends from the nape of her neck to the back of her head.

Lastly, the yellow-shafted northern flicker is in a class all of its own when it comes to plumage. It is a gorgeous woodpecker! It has a black necklace-like ring on the upper breast and a large red patch on the back of its head. It also has a beige chest and belly covered in glorious black spots. My first thought was that he was dressed in Prada! Although I only got to see him for a few seconds, I was quite taken with the beauty of his plumage. I was also able to see the iconic black mustache that can be found on the underside of flicker’s beak.

I really enjoyed getting to know more about the woodpeckers in my area this week and I look forward to seeing additional species as I continue my birding adventure!


Image is a male red-bellied woodpecker; image credit Laura Y. Ceville @BirdHouseLove