Bird Lady Blog

May 2, 2014

Hairy and Downy and Acorn


Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Gordon Karre

One Friday night this summer I was sitting at a table in the Pinewood Country Club bar waiting for karaoke to begin and a member came up to me and said “Why don’t you write about the three woodpeckers we have here?  We see the Acorn, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers all the time on our property”.  So I thanked him for his interest and his suggestion, and that’s why we are going to discuss woodpeckers in Munds Park.  These three species have black/white/red coloring, but they are distinctly different in other ways.

The Acorn Woodpecker is most prevalent here.  This bird’s back is mostly black, but when it flies from tree to tree or across your property, you can see the white under parts of its wings and belly. Acorn Woodpeckers live in year-round social units and depend on groups to build up and defend their stored supplies of acorns and insects.  Their breeding behavior is quite unique – multiple males and females combine their efforts to raise young in a single nest.  The species has a clownish, comical face, with a bright red cap and a face that has a distinct white eye ring and black-white pattern.  These birds would be a real “find” for visitors from the Midwest or East because they only inhabit parts of the Southwest and California.

The second black and white bird with some red on its head is the Downy Woodpecker.  This little bird, about seven inches in length, is common throughout the United States and a welcome sight with its bright red cap on a wintry white day.  We don’t see them too often in Munds Park – but now and then I spot one on our property.  The Downy Woodpecker has a black back with a broad white patch down the center, a white checker-board pattern on its wings, a white belly, and a small red spot on its crown. Because it is so small and can forage in small spaces among trees and their limbs, it uses food sources in its natural habitat that larger woodpeckers do not.

In Munds Park I first saw a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers this spring off our back deck.  The two birds – probably male and female – quickly came and went.  Someone new to birding, and even old pros, find that it is hard to distinguish between a Hairy and a Downy.  They are very similar in appearance, but the Downy is much smaller – about seven inches long compared to the Hairy, which is about 10 inches long.  The Downy has a small, dainty bill, while the Hairy has a longer, chisel-like beak.  Both are found through the United States, while the Acorn Woodpecker is found in a very limited area.

Actually there is one other woodpecker we should be able to spot in Northern Arizona – the Lewis Woodpecker.  The only time I’ve seen it in up north has been on the NAU campus walking from the parking lot to a meeting on a cold winter day.  It has a greenish-black back and a pinkish-salmon colored belly – if you see one of those here in Munds Park, please let me know.

Finally, I have an “oops” to report.  Last month I stated that Bill and Corrine had a nest of Yellow-Eyed Juncos.  I got called out on that by an Audubon friend of mine from Flagstaff.  Our Juncos here up north are Dark-Eyed, not Yellow-Eyed.  I know, to the non-birder person, it doesn’t sound like a big deal – but it is!  It would be like calling a Jeep a Subaru.  I slipped up by not thoroughly looking through my field guide and not thinking through the Junco sub-species.  So please accept my apologies and enjoy the Dark-Eyed Junco next time you spot one in your binoculars.

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