Posted tagged ‘red-bellied woodpecker’

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


Woodpeckers of Riverside Park Meet Little Red Riding Hood

October 31, 2011

Walking along beneath the Riverside Park retaining wall, the dog and I hear a miniature ruckus in the underbrush.

Yellow stars lie scattered on the path.

At first, I think the rustling leaves are being caused  by a member of the sparrow flock that flittered low off the path as we approached.  It’s getting to be the time of year when fallen leaves are so thick that even a single sparrow hopping and hunting among them can rustle and crunch like a large and mighty creature.

But something about this sound is just not sparrowish.  We pause to peer into the tangle of leaves, and catch a glimpse of black, white and red moving in and out of view.

And then the little noise-maker reveals itself.

Aha! A wee woodpecker.

It’s a Downy woodpecker, or just possibly, a Hairy woodpecker, hopping around on the base of thin weedy stems.

Before this, the only woodpeckers I’ve seen hunting on or near the ground are Northern flickers.  I recently came upon a flock of about eight flickers on a patch of green grass inside a little glade of trees out on Randall’s Island. They may well have been hunting ants, a favorite food. When I approached, the birds rose as one and, as they flew to the safety of nearby low branches, the gilded underside of their wings glowed golden like a Renaissance vision of the Assumption.

But back to the jaunty little red-capped fellow in Riverside Park.  I wonder what he was eating. (I say “he” advisedly, as only the male sports the red cap.) Many insects are certainly still around – or were around, at least, until the weekend’s freak snowstorm.  As botanist Marielle Anzelone observed in a lovely article in Friday’s NY Times, “A cicada is remarkable for this time of year, yet the forest is rich with invertebrates today. As ectotherms, they are soaking up this last bit of sun. They will soon be gone for the season.”

So what will the little woodpecker eat when the invertebrates are gone?  At least one Downy woodpecker stays year-round in Riverside Park; I’ve seen him in winters past in the Forever Wild section above 116th Street.  Does he dig for grubs beneath the bark? Or does he switch to a vegetarian diet?

Other woodpeckers also seem content to spend the winter in Manhattan. Last January, I saw a Red-bellied woodpecker high on the trunk of a majestic tree in Riverside Park.

Rumor (in the form of field guides) tells me that this bird has, as you might expect, a diagnostic red mark somewhere on its belly. But really, couldn’t someone have given it a more helpful name?  Woodpeckers tend to hug the tree as they hop up. I’m not sure what the poor bird would have to be doing to give anyone a good look at its belly, other than lying, well, belly-up.

Note how the Red-bellied’s red markings extend all the way down the bird’s nape like a hoodie, while the cap of the Downy is perched atop its head where a cap should be.

How about we rename it as the Little Red Riding Hood Woodpecker? Much better. Now it can have its own theme song and even its own brilliant Betty Boop cartoon.

If I were a Red-bellied woodpecker, I’d jump at the chance to ally myself with this super-cool mixing of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs’ great 1966 song laid over the Fleischer Bros. wild 1931 cartoon. Check it out.

What do you think?

From Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories

%d bloggers like this: