Woodpeckers always get attention

Published 7:30 am Saturday, November 12, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

I was happy I had a field guide handy when I noticed a rather big bird picking the ground in my front yard. According to the guide, it was a yellow-shafted flicker of the woodpecker family. I also learned it was probably feasting on ants, one of its favorite foods.

Maybe there is a nest nearby since I sometimes see similar birds in my backyard. They never come near bird feeders which attract sparrows, finches, nuthatches, Titmice and chickadees, but they light in the trees and forage for insects on the ground. There is usually a pair. In searching my field guide for more information, I found the way to distinguish a male from a female. It has black markings on each side of its head next to the bill, resembling a mustache.  These markings are so colorful it is easy to identify from a streak of red on the nape of the neck and a brown v-shaped bib. It has black spots on its breast and some soft grey markings on its head. What really catches the eye is a flash of white above the black tail feathers when the bird lifts off and flies away.

Someone pointed out a little downy woodpecker to me at a campground several years ago. It is a common woodpecker in the area but I don’t recall ever seeing one. I was surprised at both its size for it is smaller than both the red-headed woodpecker and the yellow-bellied sapsucker. It has a tiny red spot on its head with black and white feathers and a white breast. In the campground, it busied itself around a big hole in a tree, right in the midst of cars, people and RVs.

The red-headed woodpecker visits my yard sometimes. It is breathtakingly beautiful like the male cardinal when the sun shines on those crimson feathers. It just glistens. I love to see it in flight because I get the best view of the crimson head, the blue-black wings and tail feathers and the snow-white breast.

Years ago while walking a nature trail at Gulf State Park, my husband and I heard a loud tapping. We quietly moved in the direction of the sound and spotted a pileated woodpecker pounding away at a tall, dead pine tree. This fascinating bird has a thin pointed head, a solid black back, and is larger than other woodpeckers. Only one other woodpecker, the ivory-billed, almost extinct, resembles it.

Long-time residents of Lillian, where we once lived, say that the pileated woodpeckers were once a common sight there, but with the growth of the community, nesting sites diminished.

Wherever I am, the sight or call of a woodpecker always gets my attention.