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Woodpecker popularity partially comes about because they enjoy living in and around residential areas. That makes them great photography subjects.
The people of Rhode Island feel the same way. Here’s a quick run down of the native woodpecker species.
Starting with the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, pictured above. Identifying this woodpecker is not at all difficult. The color designation refers to the under the wing color of their tail and wing feathers. The black spot on the top of the breast and the general overall brown look to the feathers makes it a unique looking woodpecker species.
Flickers are the ground feeders of the woodpecker family, and it is not unusual to see them walking across the lawn in search of ants.
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.
Life has been difficult for Rhode Island Pileated Woodpeckers. According to the Rhode Island Wildlife Action Plan
During the mid-1980s, Pileated Woodpeckers were only detected at a few locations in western Rhode Island. There has been a noticeable increase throughout the State (e.g., Lincoln Woods, Great Swamp). This population increase is related to the continued maturation of Rhode Island forests.
Like almost all the states along the Mid-Atlantic seaboard, Rhode Island hosts two Melanerpes woodpeckers, the Red-bellied and the Red-headed.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are the most wide spread of the species. In fact, Red-bellied woodpecker populations have increased more in Rhode Island over the past few decades more than any other bird species. Researchers for the Rhode Island bird atlas assume the increase is partially due to the continued growth in forested land and woodlots across the state.
Physically, the name red-bellied can be a bit misleading because the stomach feathers only show 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.
They belong to the same genus as the Acorn Woodpecker, and like them, they are known to store food in cracks in trees. Their diet also consists of in season fruit, nuts and insects.
Red-headed woodpeckers rank as the most wide spread of the Melanerpes species, with a presence in almost every state from the Rocky Mountains and destinations east. It’s physical appearance translates into easy identification. The head, covered in red feathers, along with a white stomach 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.
North America’s most diverse woodpecker genera, Picoides, records nine separate species. The two most common, the Downy and Hairy, reside in Rhode Island.
Physically both look very similar. Overall size along with bill size are the standard field identification clues.
The Downy’s black and white feather pattern resembles the slightly larger Hairy Woodpecker. Downy Woodpeckers typically have small bills. Males have a red crown. The picture shows a female.
The Hairy Woodpecker picture highlights the comparatively larger bill. Otherwise, the black and white striped face, white belly and back feathers look very similar. Males also have a red crown.
Both species adapt to forests and residential areas alike, although the Hairy woodpeckers are more common in rural forest areas. Look for them at the backyard feeder.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breed across Canada and migrate to Rhode Island for the winter. They are the most common of the four native sapsucker species.
Males have a red crown and throat. Females only have a red crown. It’s very easy to identify in its East Coast territories. There might be some overlap with the Red-naped Sapsucker territory. The presence of red feathers on the back of the neck differentiates the Red-naped Sapsucker from the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.