Woodpeckers In The Garden

manature(9B Sanford, FL)May 11, 2008

Since Nova had such a great experience with her red-headed woodpecker at her birdbath, I thought maybe I would share some info and pictures of all eight of Florida's native woodpeckers. All but one could easily show up in your garden, and a couple of them are probably ALWAYS there. So without further ado, I give you Florida's woodpeckers:

1. Red-bellied Woodpecker (our most common)

These are both males, and you can tell that by the fact that the red on top of the head goes all the way forward to touch the top of the beak. They are in the group of woodpeckers known as "ladder-backs" because of the strong black & white bars across their backs. This bird will readily come to feeders, especially for sunflower seeds or peanuts. They are called red-bellied woodpeckers because the male gets a flush of red feathers across the belly area during breeding season.

2. Pileated Woodpecker (our largest):

This is a male pileated (the males have a red moustache going back from their beaks, and the females have a black one, plus the female hasn't as much red on the crest). The word pileated means crested. No explanation needed for that. These birds are crow-sized and very impressive to watch.

3. Downy Woodpecker (our smallest):

Downies are quite common and busy little birds, not much larger than a sparrow, really. Their high pitched chipping call is heard more often than the bird is seen, but if you look close, you can watch them circling the tree trunks in a very busy manner. They are very pretty little birds.

4. The Hairy Woodpecker (almost identical to the downy):

This little guy looks very much like a downy woodpecker and is often misidentified. He is actually a tiny bit larger, with a MUCH longer and heavier beak. He is not nearly as commonly seen as the downy.

Here is a picture of downy & hairy woodpeckers side by side for comparison. Only the males have the red spots on the back of their heads.

5. The Northern Flicker (our only brown woodpecker):

The flicker is second in size only to the pileated, and is black & brown in color, with a red "V" on the nape of his neck. Flickers are often seen on the ground, and love to go "anting" around ant hills. Their call is a loud wicka-wicka-wicka, which is how they got their name.

6. The Red-Headed Woodpecker (our most beautiful):

Most people do consider this to be the prettiest of the woodpeckers, though I think they are all lovely. Red-headeds are disappearing rapidly due to loss of habitat and competition from starlings for nesting sites. Starlings are NOT native birds, but were introduced from Europe. Their aggresive nature makes them formidable enemies when fighting over a nest cavity. In the fall of the year, red-headed woodpeckers eat primarily "mast," which is made up of acorns, which it will cache in tree crevices to feed on later. This is not common behavior for woodpeckers and is one of the things that makes red-headeds so interesting.

7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (our winter resident):

No, yellow-bellied sapsuckers is not just a name old time cowboys used to call the bad guys. It's an actual woodpecker that winters in Florida every year. It's a smallish woodpecker, not quite as big as a red-bellied, and is the one responsible for drilling the rings of holes you see encircling some tree trunks. The sap that oozes from these holes attracts hummingbirds, warblers and even squirrels. And no, the rings of holes won't kill your tree, as many people worry. Sapsuckers have a conspicuously striped head, and the males have a red throat. There is a yellowish tinge to the belly (hence the name). They are quiet and shy birds, somewhat difficult to spot, but they do visit our backyards every year. I've seen one or two at every house I've lived in.

8. Red-cockaded Woodpecker (our rarest):

This is the only one of the Florida woodpeckers that you are NOT likely to see in your yard. Wholesale clear-cutting of Florida's pinewoods has reduced the numbers of these birds to a mere fraction of what they once were. They are considered an endangered species. I've only ever seen one once, and it was a long hard trek to a known nest, where we sat for hours to watch the bird come swooping in at dusk. Not a very good look at all, but if you are ever so lucky as to see one of these in the pinewoods somewhere, here is what they look like:

The big white cheek patch is diagnostc, and though they do have a few red feathers just behind the eye (the cockade), it is often not visible at all. Another picture, just because they are so rare.

And there you have it! Florida's eight woodpecker species. I hope you all get to see the first seven in your yards at sooner or later.


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I think I have probably seen 5 of the eight in my yard, with the pileated, read-headed and flickers being the most common. We have lots of dead trees so they are always around. Where do they nest? We have one tall hulk of a tree that something has burrowed/dug/pecked a big hole in about 20 or so feet off the ground. I have not seen any birds fly in and out but wondered if any of the W.P.s nested this way.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 8:01PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Melissa, woodpeckers are all cavity nesters, and they do excavate their own cavities in dead trees. Old snags that are not in a dangerous spot should be left for woodpeckers as often as possible.

Screech owls nest in woodpecker cavities, too. Those dead trees are valuable real estate for birds and other animals. Here is a pileated at his nest cavity. The hole still looks a little small, so he might have been in the process of excavation when the picture was taken.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 8:27PM
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cindeea(FtMyers 10)

Oh Marcia, some of my FAVORITE visitors! I love woodpeckers. I've had them all at one time or another. The Pileated is a hands down fav yet I also love the antics and quick flitters of the red bellies and Flickers. You can always tell a wood pecker in flight with it's float and swoop, float and swoop movement.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 10:16PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Noooow, Cindee...I just KNOW you meant you'd had the first seven at one time or another, right? Cuz if you tell me you've had a red-cockaded woodpecker in your yard, I'm going to call Audubon and alert the media! They will be paying you a visit soon!

But I do imagine you've had most of the rest, though the hairy is very rare south of Okeechobee.

I know what you mean about the way they fly. You can tell one at any distance, even when you can't see the colors, just by that flight pattern. No other bird that I know of flies like that. It comes from flapping their wings a couple of times, and then folding them flat for a moment, then flapping again. It's amazing, isn't it?


    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 10:25PM
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Thanks for the pictures!
Which is the one that pecks on street lights to get the bugs to fall out? We have one of those that stops by sometimes. Makes a heck of a racket. I used to think he was just the stupidest woodpecker alive until someone told me he gets bugs out of the light that way.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 10:35PM
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atreelady(9b SW Orlando)

Yep, Natives and Veggies. birds are pretty smart. I was working at Tupperware for a short time and people would feed the birds bread during lunch break. One bird would take the bread and drop it in the water, the fish would go for the bread and he would get the fish. I forgot what kinda bird it was.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 10:49PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Normally when a woodpecker drums on a metal surface, he is staking a claim on his territory, rather than trying to get bugs out of a light. The metal surface amplifies his drumming and that is his way of letting other male woodpeckers know that he is the Big Boy in town, and that they should stay away. The males of all woodpecker species that I know of will drum like that, and it sure gets your attention.

Atreelady, I have seen little green herons fishing just the way you describe, though it might be something that others have learned to do, as well.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 11:48PM
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cindeea(FtMyers 10)

OK Marcia, ya caught me. I kept going back to the cockaded pic thinking maybe I didn't have that guy and the red-headed, only once or twice when we lived in Estero near the Bay. We had so many peckers there. (Oh Boy this will get Tony going!) The pileated drove Dennis's son mad in the the Sweet Bay Magnolias every morning with their cat calling. So I fess up....my face and head are RED!
MEA CULPA! Mother Bird

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 12:04AM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

DARN!! I was SO hoping I could get a camera crew together and we could come to your house and do a documentary. I was all set. Even packed my Coleus Queen crown and my
"It's Not Nice To Fool Mother Nature" t-shirt! Hehehehe.

No need for apologies, Dear Heart. I really WAS hoping maybe you'd seen something truly rare. BUT...I had my doubts. And I figured you meant you'd seen the top seven. I usually only refer to the seven when talking about woodies (is that any better than peckers?) because 8th one is so rare. I hope you DO see him someday. That would mean the numbers are increasing, and that would be fantastic!


    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 8:48AM
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Oooooh Manature I learn so much from you---and the pictures!!

(Does anyone else see a picture in their mind of Manature in that commercial from the 70's "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature"...she's draped in muslin like a Greek goddess-but I digress)

I learn SO MUCH here. Just learning what the peckers mean when they pound on the metal poles is worth the price of admission. I thought they were nuts.

Snakes, woodpeckers, what else? Oh my.

I have NO TREES in my small yard but I will head out to the forest nearby and search for woodpeckers. I know they live nearby.

We just camped at Fort DeSoto in St. Pete and saw the holes on cabbage palms described above. Didn't see the birds though. Too many people I guess. Very interesting actually since 80% of campers seemed to be Muslim and everybody (except us) had a campfire burning and it was 90 degrees outside.

Fort deSoto is a great place for birders. We want to go back soon with a bird book and binoculars.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 5:27PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

NG, Fort DeSoto is one of THE premiere birding spots in the country during migration. It is on the flyway, and birds of every kind stop there to catch their collective breaths when they are heading north in the spring or south in the fall. I have seen FLOCKS of black & orange orioles walking on the sanddunes and sitting on the beach, for instance!! Imagine!

The mulberry tree area is known for rose-breasted grosbeaks and other beautiful birds that don't spend much time in Florida. I envy you your camping trip there! Hope you had fun.

And yes, I do tend to spend most of my days attired in Grecian robes and strolling among my subjects (who call call me "Ma" by the way). And now, thanks to Kat, I can wave my jeweled sceptor as I visit with my animal friends. All is love and light...as long as they don't try to FOOOOOL me!

Glad you enjoyed the woodpecker post!


    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 6:25PM
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Thanks Marcia! I always learn something from your "Bird and Snake" posts. Of the eight woodpeckers you have here I can say I have seen six including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. I know it sounds strange but I managed to see the "rarest" of Florida woodpeckers at the Avon Park Air Force Range. They work really hard there to protect this endangered species and have their nesting trees marked. Just like you, I spent most of the day sitting close by a nesting tree then about dusk one came in and hopped about on the tree before disappearing into the cavity. I was so thrilled that I couldn't even complain about the hugh case of chiggers I got that day!

Keep up the good work educating us!


    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 6:31PM
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I saw a downy or hairy (don't know which) not long ago, and wondered what it was. I've only seen one other, a flicker, in my yard. My resident woodpecker is the first one, the red bellied. I'd love to see a pileated, but haven't yet.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 7:15PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Glad you ladies are enjoying learning about our native woodpeckers. Nova, congratulations on seeing a red-cockaded! They are truly rare and even when you see one, you usually only get the briefest glimpse. JYG, I love red-bellied woodpeckers. They are frequent visitors to my feeder and I always stop to watch them. The odds are you saw a downy, rather than the much less common hairy, but you never know unless you get a really close look.

You will be shocked when you see your first pileated. They look HUGE compared to the others, and they are so impressive!


    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 7:53PM
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Thanks so much for posting this! I've finally ID'd our guy. He's a red bellied. I just saw him swoop across the yard into our cabbage palm. He had the red feathers on his belly, so I guess it's mating season. He pecked around the cabbage palm a little and then swooped into the sapodilla.
Very cool diversion on a hot, lazy day by the pool (ignoring the garden out of sheer laziness.)

    Bookmark   May 17, 2008 at 4:21PM
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Hi, my son and I have bought a home in Belleview with half an acre wooded lot in the back. My son wants to keep it overgrown for the animals. He needs help in attracting and keeping the animals presently there. We have seen coral snakes, black racers, pileated woodpeckers and many squirrels. I now know not to cut down any dead trees that are away from the house, what else?
Thanks for the help,
Cher and Clay

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 5:02PM
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Loved the wonderful pictures & info -made my day! Thank you Marcia!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 6:16PM
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tomkaren(z9 Citrus Co FL)

Thanks for the woodpecker pictures. I have the first six here always. Have a couple of pair of the Pileated near here but don't know where I may be nesting.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 7:11PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Claysmom, perhaps your son would be interested in making his property a Certified Wildlife Habitat? This is easier than most people might think. You just need to provide food, shelter and water for various types of animals. You can Google it and read all about the requirements online, and even print out an application for the official certification. Nicki's city yard is certified, so even those without rural property can qualify. I encourage everyone who is interested to check it out. (If I can managed to stay on the computer long enough, I'll see if I can find the link, but I'm having some unanticipated difficulties from my foot surgery, and won't be here very long.)

Glad you guys enjoyed seeing this old post pop up again. I do love these birds, and am happy it was of interest to you.


    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 11:36AM
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dghays(Z10A FL Brevard)

Great information, as you always provide Marcia.

We get red bellies daily, and have had several broods of young raised. Pileated only seen once at home, downy less common than red belly, but they usually stay on the periphery or in a longleaf pine, never on our feeder, so are more difficult to notice.


    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 3:46PM
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I saw the neatest thing, we have nesting Red Headed Woodpeckers nesting in our old palm tree nice hole, and have been there for weeks now. While I was watching these two we were visited on the tree next to them by two Downey Woodpeckers, did not know if one attracted the other. Familty reunion.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 6:28PM
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