Woodpecker Wilderness

Last weekend I spent just a few minutes outside in the backyard, but that’s all it took to see 3 different woodpeckers.  Though I admit that seeing almost any bird gets me to grab my camera and hurry into the yard, there is something special about watching a woodpecker looking for food.

What got me out there to begin with?  I was looking at the woods and I thought I saw a crow flying with some white food in its mouth.  When it landed, I saw that it definitely was not a crow- it was a Pileated Woodpecker!  One of my favorite birds!

If you haven’t seen one before, let me tell you, they are BIG.  This photo gives us a good look at its big red head.  (Also, take note of the dying ivy on the tree trunk- we have worked hard to try and keep the ivy back, but it is a relentless opponent!)

As my co-worker Joe points out, Pileated Woodpeckers look prehistoric.  This one is a female- males have more red on their heads and face.

Pileated Woodpeckers do share a lot of common traits with smaller woodpeckers including, as I’ve posted about before, using their tail as a brace to keep them upright.

At the same time I was taking the pictures above, I heard another bird high up in the tree canopy.  It took me a minute to find it, but when I did I saw that it was a Northern Flicker- another woodpecker!  Note again, it is using its tail as a brace.

Like the Pileated Woodpecker, it was foraging for food.  Here it looks to be finding something in a branch nook.  Possibly some insects?

From this angle, it is apparent that it is also a female since it is lacking red in its face.  Also, the red in its tail means this flicker is in the “red-shafted” group.

How lucky could I get?  Two woodpeckers in the woods at the same time- a great find.

Wait a second- what was that?!?

Goodness- another one!  A Downy Woodpecker this time.  Unlike the Pileated Woodpecker, the Downy Woodpecker is tiny.  But, note how it is also using its tail to hold itself up.

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers look a lot alike, but this bird’s beak is not big enough to be that of a Hairy Woodpecker.  Downy it is.  Larry of The Birder’s Report just posted an interesting article about telling the difference between the two.  Check it out.

Unlike the other two birds, this one is a male because it does have a red cap- female Downy’s do not.  I have always wondered where a woodpecker’s red coloring comes from.  Since the males have more on all three of these different woodpeckers, I can guess that it has something to do with breeding.  Females probably find it attractive.  Anyone know?


  1. Wow Mike, you got to see the largest and smallest woodpeckers in the US at the same time (unless someone comes up with an Ivory-billed Woodpecker)! Those Pileateds are huge, amazing birds. I wish I had them at my house but I live in oak savannah and those big boys like large, old growth forest with closed canopies.

    Nice shots of all the woodpeckers. I really enjoy watching woodpeckers too. I actually have a woodpecker feeder in my yard that brings some species in. I am always envious when I see folks posting Pileated Woodpeckers in their yard though. You lucky guy! Thanks for the link to my post too!

  2. …I’ve never had a Pileated in my backyard–wow! I’d love to look out and see one. You’re lucky! Then to follow it up with a flicker and a downy…wonderful! Lovely photos too…

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