Posted tagged ‘identifying woodpeckers’

Woodpeckers in New York: Beautiful Redheads

January 4, 2013

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.


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


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.


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


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

Avian Red Wake-up

January 1, 2013

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


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