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Red-headed Woodpeckers

Posted Aug 31 2009 10:22pm

I read this week that Red-headed Woodpeckers had nested a modest distance south of our city and were frequently seen with their young along a country road. I see Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers often, Pileated Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers less frequently but I have never seen a Red-headed Woodpecker in our region. A local bird expert, Neil Taylor told me he used to see them in Homer Watson Park but none had been around for at least five years. They used to be common many years ago and Cornell University lists them as "near threatened" now due to habitat loss.

Adult bird in possible nesting area

I drove to the area where the birds had been reported and fortunately met two birders who had already located them (Thanks!). The weather was cloudy and the birds were never close enough for a good picture although I was happy to have a view through my binoculars. The other birders left and I waited in my vehicle while a rain shower passed over and then watched the birds closely.

Juvenile on possible nesting pole

They preferred a certain pole, and two different dead trees. Red-headed Woodpeckers are supposed to be cavity nesters, but it seemed that they possibly had nested in the top of a hydro pole. I watched an adult bird who seemed to be resting there and then one of the juveniles arrived as well. The juveniles were as large as the adults, but did not have bright plumage yet.

Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker

Between rain showers, there were a few minutes of sunshine and blue skies and I was able to approach the tree where they enjoyed feeding the most. There was lots of calling back and forth between the birds and I got a very good look at the adults. In all, I spent about two hours waiting for them to come close but it was worth the time observing their behaviour and fine appearance. They will be leaving our area soon to spend the winter south of the Great Lakes but you can be sure I will make an effort to look for them again next year.

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