Thursday, March 10, 2016

Woodpeckers at HNWR

The Hagerman NWR Bird Check List includes 8 species of woodpeckers:  Red-headed, Red-bellied, Ladder-backed, Downy, Hairy and Pileated woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Northern Flicker.  The Red-bellied and the Downy are listed as likely to be seen in suitable habitats all year around at the Refuge. On Saturday, March 12,  Dr. Wayne Meyer will lead a bird walk, weather permitting, and then speak on the Woodpeckers at  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.   Let’s take a look today at two of the most often seen.

First, the smallest of the bunch, the Downy Woodpecker: think checkerboard when you think of the Downy.  Here is a description from Cornell’s All About Birds: 
Downy Woodpeckers give a checkered black-and-white impression. The black upper parts are checked with white on the wings, the head is boldly striped, and the back has a broad white stripe down the center. Males have a small red patch on the back of the head. The outer tail feathers are typically white with a few black spots.

The site goes on to discuss differentiating Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, whose appearances are very similar but the Hairy is much larger with  a much  larger bill.  Cornell gives tips for distinguishing the two visually at Project Feeder Watch. 

Downy Woodpecker at HNWR.
Look for the Downy in open woodlands and brushy edges.  The abundance of dead trees around Dead Woman Pond provides a good habitat for all the woodpeckers at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  And, according to Cornell, the Downy is the most likely of the woodpeckers to visit  the backyard  feeder, where their  preferred diet is suet, followed by sunflower seeds, peanuts,  and other seeds.

Downy at a backyard feeder.
Also commonly seen year around at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. The name is confusing, as the visible red is on the forehead, cap and nape of the adult male and on the nape and around the bill of the adult female, according to Cornell’s All About Birds, but the female does have a “red belly, usually concealed by surrounding gray feathers”.

Red-bellied Woodpecker at Hagerman NWR, by Miguel Mendoza

Good places to watch for Red-bellied Woodpeckers at the Refuge are Haller’s Haven Trail and the Big Mineral Picnic Area, where they may be found “hitching” along branches and trunks of trees. Cornell's site notes that they will also visit backyard feeders for suet, peanuts and sometimes sunflower seeds.

Some “COOL FACTS” from Cornell:
You may sometimes see Red-bellied Woodpeckers wedge large nuts into bark crevices, then whack them into manageable pieces using their beaks. They also use cracks in trees and fence posts to store food for later in the year, a habit it shares with other woodpeckers in its genus.
A Red-bellied Woodpecker can stick out its tongue nearly 2 inches past the end of its beak. The tip is barbed and the bird’s spit is sticky, making it easier to snatch prey from deep crevices. Males have longer, wider-tipped tongues than females, possibly allowing a breeding pair to forage in slightly different places on their territory and maximize their use of available food.
The oldest known Red-bellied Woodpecker was 12 years and  1 month old.
Join us Saturday at the Refuge for more on woodpeckers!

Photos of Downy woodpeckers by Dick Malnory

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