Avian Red Wake-up

High in the tree branches in Riverside Park, a small, brilliant flash of red startled me. It soon revealed itself to be the head of a black-and-white woodpecker. The little fellow was very active, hopping from one branch to another with great rapidity, ducking behind branches and twigs, making it hard for me to get a good look at its entire form. And, of course, I had left behind both my binoculars and my camera.

Was the beautiful bird a Red-bellied woodpecker?

Red-bellied woodpecker by John James Audubon

Red-bellied woodpecker by John James Audubon

(Despite its name, the Red-bellied woodpecker is notably black and white with a red cap and nape.  The name derives from a reddish tinge on the belly that is really only visible when the bird is examined close up.)  I watched until the bird swooped off, scalloping the air, to another tree. But when I got home and opened a bird book, it was the the flash of a red cap that lit the image in my mind. A red cap, not a red cap and nape. So hmmm…

Could it have been a yellow-bellied sapsucker?

Yellow-bellied sapsucker by John James Audubon.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker by John James Audubon.

Both birds are seen in NYC parks, although the Yellow-bellied sapsucker is apparently less common.  But something about the coloring, and even the cap, just doesn’t seem quite right when compared with the bird in my mind’s eye. So I believe it was a Red-bellied. Next time I’ll know better how to look at a red-headed woodpecker to note its defining marks.

The unexpected flash of avian red has stayed with me, like a wake-up of some kind. “Sleeper, awake!” the little bird signaled to me.  A good jolt with which to start a new year.

Since I have no photo of my woodpecker, here is a different bit of vibrant wake-up-the-new-year red, photographed by a friend on his morning walk.

Cardinal in NYC. Photo: Rob Pavlin

Cardinal in NYC, plumped against the cold. Photo: Rob Pavlin

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Explore posts in the same categories: 2012, Birds, Central Park, In the City, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

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6 Comments on “Avian Red Wake-up”

  1. Rose Says:

    Absolutely stunning – no cardinals here, it is awesome!

  2. Barbara Says:

    Other black and white woodpeckers and more common than the red-belly are the hairy and downie woodpeckers. The hairy is as big as a red-bely but has less red, not down its neck but a bright red cap at the back of its head, as does the downy…but it’s a small very fast moving bird.

    Enjoy your search Melissa… and the cardinals this year are a brilliant red – so glad you have a photo of one for your blog. Happy new year!


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