Jul 06 2008
Here’s a bird you don’t see every day!
On the Fourth of July I hiked a section of State Gameland #95 in northern Butler County. I was about to head back to the car when I decided to push a little further to the lake at Slippery Rock Creek.
On the way there I saw a flash of white among the dead snags in the swamp. So many times I’ve watched the same flash and movement in the 2005 video of the ivory-billed woodpecker that my first reaction was a gasp. It can’t be!
Well, of course it wasn’t.
It was a red-headed woodpecker, a much smaller bird whose flight characteristics and white back are reminiscent of the ivory-billed. Red-headed woodpeckers are unusual nonetheless. I was very happy to see this one.
The woodpecker sat still for a while. Then he zoomed up, hawked a large bug out of the air, carried it to a tree trunk and hammered it dead. I thought he was going to cache it in a crevice, but he carried his prize to a nest hole and poked his head in. Wow! This bird has kids.
After dropping off the food he flew back to his perching snag and harassed a northern flicker along the way. As soon as he perched he was almost invisible. I would never have noticed him if he hadn’t flown.
When I got home I did some research and was amazed to discover I’d seen most of the red-headed woodpecker’s notable characteristics in one brief moment:
- Red-headed woodpeckers are conspicuous in flight with their jazzy red, black and white tuxedos.
- They are expert flycatchers but will also eat mast (tree nuts), waste grain, fruit, bird eggs, just about anything.
- They fly with powerful flapping (like the ivory-billed woodpecker) not undulating flight like most woodpeckers.
- They rely on areas of dead trees for nesting. Their population increased when the chestnut blight killed so many trees.
- They sit still for long periods of time.
- They are the most pugnacious North American woodpecker, aggressive toward many birds including northern flickers.
- They are said to have a playful nature. (How this accords with aggression, I don’t know.)
- In fall they migrate during the day, wandering in search of mast.
- They’re one of only four woodpeckers who store food.
- Their population is erratic and declining.
So if you see a red-headed woodpecker, count yourself lucky to see such pizazz. I do.
(photo by Chuck Tague)