The phrase Oklahoma woodpeckers probably does not ring many bells for birders seeking to shore up their woodpeckers life lists. Maybe that ought to change. Oklahoma hosts a very respectable eleven woodpecker species covering all five native woodpecker genera.
It’s also good news for all Midwesterners because they need not travel far to see a couple of uncommon species. The top picture, for example, shows the Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Most of the population resides in Mexico. There is population spillover into Texas and it extends north to Oklahoma.
They are very gregarious birds easily adapt to residential areas. Put your basic fruit or nuts in a feeder and they are there. As you continue to observe them, don’t be surprised to see them fighting over the feeder with other birds to establish the basic feeder pecking order.
Oklahoma also hosts the two most common East Coast Melanerpes species, the Red-bellied woodpecker and the Red-headed woodpecker.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are larger than average birds with an outgoing personality. They easily adapt to backyard feeders and their loud vocalizations can often be heard through the neighborhood.
Physically, the name red-bellied can be a bit misleading because the stomach feathers have barely a hint of red to them. The back and top of the male’s head is red. The female’s head is buffy and the nape is red.
With a head covered in red feathers and a distinct white feathered stomach, the Red-headed woodpecker stands out in a crowded woodpecker field. Both males and females share this feature. Juveniles have brown feathers on the head for their first year.
They enjoy open areas with grasses and woodlands, especially oak dominated areas because the consume acorns. Their propensity for nuts also means they are easily enticed to backyard feeders with suet or other healthy nuts such as sunflower seeds.
Woodpecker enthusiasts with backyard feeders can attest to their gregarious nature. They don’t mind flocking in large groups when food is plentiful. In those times, they can be a bit vocal. In the northernmost area of their range they are a summer resident for breeding and then migrate south for the winter.
Flickers are a very common Oklahoma woodpecker with a presence in almost every corner of the state.
Oklahoma is also one of a few states where both the Red-shafted and Yellow Shafted Northern Flickers reside. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma have also documented instances of hybridization between the subspecies.
The West Coast variant is named the Red-shafted Northern Flicker and it migrates to the wester parts of the state during the winter months. The East Coast variant is named the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker and it is the dominant subspecies in the state. The color designation refers to the under the wing color of their tail and wing feathers.
Flickers are the ground feeders of the woodpecker family. They prefer open habitats such as fields and residential areas because they supply them with their primary food sources such as insects, seeds and berries. The male is distinguished from the female by the red patch on the cheek.
Popular birds, they are welcome at many back yard feeders and especially enjoy a snack of suet and water. With a life that often exceeds the five year mark, homeowners might expect a long term relationship with any flickers they might attract to the back yard feeder.
The red crested head and white stripes across the face makes it difficult to mistake the Pileated Woodpecker for any other species. It’s the only species in the Dryocopus genus in the United Sates and probably the largest woodpecker in any area.
They are a fairly rare species in the western parts of the state and more common in the eastern parts of the state.
The only woodpecker species on the Endangered Species List, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker makes its home in the mostly longleaf pines of the Southern United States. Habitat encroachment severely limited their range and breeding capabilities.
Physically it is a medium sized woodpecker with a common barred black and white feathers. A black cap and nape surrounding white facial feathers are the best field identification clues. Males have red stripes across the crown. The were called cockades after a 19th century hat fashion.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation:
Current and Historic Distribution: Currently, there are approximately 15 family groups of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Oklahoma. All of these birds live in southeastern Oklahoma on the McCurtain County Wilderness Area, which is owned by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and is the largest tract of uncut pine forest in the state. Historically, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were more widespread in Shortleaf Pine woodlands in the Ouachita Mountains.
Oklahoma is also a good place to see the less common Ladder-backed woodpecker.
A pattern of striped feathers on the back and spots on the breast provide initial identification marks. Males, like the one in picture two also have a red cap.
North America’s most diverse woodpecker genera, Picoides, records nine separate species. The smallest and most common Picoides, the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) adapts equally well to most wilderness and residential areas with trees.
Physically, the Downy’s black and white feather pattern resembles the slightly larger Hairy Woodpecker. In instances where size comparisons might not be available, experts suggest examining the bill size in relation to the head size. Downy Woodpeckers typically have small bills.
Everything that is written about the Downy Woodpecker can be written about the Hairy Woodpecker with few caveats. The picture highlights the most important caveat, they have a larger bill than the Downy. Otherwise, the black and white striped face, white belly and back feathers look very similar. Males also have a red crown.
They are a very common species across the United States because they are adaptable to forests and residential areas alike. Look for them at the backyard feeder.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the most far ranging of all the native sapsucker species. It breeds across Canada and a portion of the population migrates to Oklahoma during the winter months.
Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories.