Woodpecker Stories

By Jaya Ramanathan

Winter is here, and we welcome migrant birds, trickling in from colder north. We also bid adieu to Monarchs that prefer warmer weather, south of us. While awaiting more migrant birds, I decided to reminisce and write about our sights of Woodpeckers.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker with sunflower seed

Red-bellied Woodpecker visits us often, and we spot it frequently in our neighborhood Freeman Park. Both males and females have red nape, while males also have a red crown. Whenever I hear its call, I check electric poles, as it loves to perch there, pecking for bugs, once turning its head a full half circle. It visits our sunflower seed feeder, precariously balances itself, fetches one seed at a time, places it in our patio oak grooves, and pecks it open to munch. It once regurgitated a seed and chewed it, better this time around? I was surprised when I saw its long tongue, and when it ate fruits of our patio tree.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker eating fruit

Woodpeckers have a distinct sliding movement, both vertical and horizontal. Red-bellied Woodpecker glides gracefully on oak, probing for bugs. Perching vertically, it cranes its neck to sip water from bath. Little ones venture to take an actual bath. It happily shares, waiting patiently for its turn, while a brave Carolina Chickadee sips from bath. On a rare occasion, we see it on ground, maybe looking for a bug? We have seen juveniles, initially with parent, and later on their own, even bravely poking Blue Jay to share bath.

Male Downy Woodpecker at seed feeder

Our first nesting experience of Downy Woodpecker in Freeman Park, inspired me to start writing blogs for Travis Audubon. Downy has long white stripe down the middle of its back. Males also have red spot on their head. Both parents care for young during nesting. Downy visits our sunflower seed feeder, perching easily. We spot it pecking for bugs on oak, but have not seen it at bath, or eating patio tree fruits.

Female Downy Woodpecker

Our first sight of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was during the Historic Winter Outbreak. Next time was during bomb cyclone, when temperature was 14F, but sunny with no freezing rain. It hugged our patio oak trunk then for a while, feathers ruffling in wind. One can identify it by vertical white wing patches along side of folded wing. Both males and females have red crown. Males also have red throat. It migrates south during winter, the only Woodpecker to do so in eastern part of North America.

Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

We first spotted Golden-fronted Woodpecker in Garner State Park. They have yellow on forehead and on back of neck. Males also have red crown.We saw two females chasing each other, maybe they were competing for a nesting spot? We also spotted a juvenile in our backyard.

Female Golden-fronted Woodpeckers in Garner State Park

Woodpeckers always arrest my attention with their striking plumage pattern, vibrant colors, and unique movements, even after watching them many times. Their visit during winter storms, when we are homebound, is an absolute delight. Texas Parks and Wildlife lists many more types that can be spotted in our state. An opportunity for more Woodpecker stories?

Male Downy and Female Red-bellied Woodpeckers during winter storm

All Photos by Jaya Ramanathan