Woodpeckers in New York: Beautiful Redheads

Woodpeckers are such stylish animals.

Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo: Melissa Cooper

Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo: Melissa Cooper

And, yes, clearly it was a red cap and nape that I saw on New Year’s Eve Day, not just a red cap. Which means the bird was, without a doubt, a male Red-bellied woodpecker. (In Woodpeckers of Riverside Park Meet Little Red Riding Hood, I made the case for calling it the Little Red Riding Hood Woodpecker.)

How can I be so sure today when I was unsure two days ago? Because I saw the little devil again yesterday morning.  And this time, in case you haven’t noticed, the view was unobstructed and I got photos.

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The bird was less active yesterday, remaining on its perch for several minutes, looking around from side to side, and up and down.

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The little bird was probably sitting so still and alert due to the unusual amount of hawk activity overhead.  Three Red-tailed hawks were passing overhead, soaring, then swooping low through the trees.  Birds and squirrels tend to go into lock-down when the hawks are flying nearby, trying not to call attention to themselves through movement. Of course, once the hawks perch, they are no longer much of a threat since their hunting technique involves stooping from the air with great force at their prey.  Birds and squirrels can often be quite bold with a perched hawk. I’ve seen squirrels seem to taunt a perched hawk, and the sight of crows or jays mobbing a hawk is fairly common. In rural areas, Red-tailed hawks dine mostly on rodents, but here in the city they are frequently seen eating pigeons and songbirds in addition to rats, squirrels and mice.

  One of the hawks perched for a while in a neighboring Sweetgum tree, looking much like the piles of leaves, known as dreys, that squirrels build as nests.

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After a few minutes, the hawk unfolded its great wings, and soared off to the southwest.

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The woodpecker then did the same, swooping across the promenade to a higher branch on another tree.

The handsome little bird is a charming addition to the park, easy on the eyes and easy to spot. In winters past, I’ve sometimes seen a sole Red-bellied woodpecker in this area of Riverside Park. Now I wonder if it is the same bird returning year after year. In any event, I hope he sticks around, and continues to evade hawks, cars and other urban hazards.

For more on woodpeckers in Riverside Park:Woodpeckers of Riverside Park Meet Little Red Riding Hood
Who’s Eating What in NYC Parks

And for other New York woodpeckers:
A Visit To Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Sapsucker Woods: My First Pileated Woodpecker

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

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11 Comments on “Woodpeckers in New York: Beautiful Redheads”


  1. […] Out Walking the Dog – Great concept for a blog! (please check out her other blog while you’re there!) […]

  2. mthew Says:

    A bigger concern for the Red-bellied woodpeckers than Red-tailed hawks are the bird-eating Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks, but biggest would be are Starlings, who mob up on them to steal their tree cavities, where they nest.


  3. What a beautiful woodpecker. Well spotted!

  4. p hoey Says:

    Marvelous photos that tell the story. The hawk’s transformation
    from a bundle of brownish rags to a large raptor is thrilling (now
    that red-riding-hood is safe)!

  5. Mr. Mantooth Says:

    Hawks, Crows, Jays — you leave the redheads alone, I’m warning you!


    • Yes, it does seem sad that a particularly beautiful bird might be eaten, especially an individual that one is enjoying. But such is life in the urban jungle. SO far, so good. I’m seeing this bird daily right now.

  6. Barbara Says:

    What a great photo of a red-belly – wow! love it! have three living nearby which should be out of their range…but apparently with climate change we’re getting warmer up here in central Ontario.

    Love this Melissa – great photos and wonderful post!


    • Interesting that you have three Red-bellies up in Ontario. They are striking birds, and woodpeckers are such fun to watch with their acrobatic postures. I love how they can use their tails to prop themselves at strange angles while they feed. This one is often so high up in the branches that I can only see it as a silhouette against the winter sky (since I’m usually out w/o binoculars). I felt lucky to have such a good view on this day – and to have my camera handy.


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