The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Hill Country Woodpeckers
Bill Lindemann, Fredericksburg Standard/Radio Post, Kerrville Daily Times, March 2003, © 2003

I have had a number of recent inquiries about our woodpeckers and some of their tactics which can be annoying to some home owners. We have two common species of woodpeckers who permanently reside here and equal number of common woodpeckers who spend only the winter months with us.

Let's start with our two common permanent residents, the smaller Ladder-backed and the larger Golden-fronted woodpeckers. The barred backs gave one of them its name, "ladder-backed." Both of theses species have a preference for drier habitats, feeling very much at home in mesquite and oak woodlands. Most male woodpeckers have some red on their heads, and in the case of the Golden-fronted, a red orange cap with golden yellow on his forehead and nape.

Both of these species dig holes in dead tree limbs. The Golden-fronted often carries his penchant for cavity construction to telephone and high power line poles; a habit which does not make him popular with the electrical companies. Equipped with chisel-like bills, these birds penetrate mainly dead wood to search for ants and beetle larva, their main food sources. Their abandoned cavities are also used as nesting sites, including several other non-woodpecker species, such as bluebirds, flycatchers and titmice.

When these birds are in the neighborhood, it is difficult to not hear their noisy calls and hammering exercises. The Ladder-backed Woodpecker has a distinctive squeaky "whinnying" call, while the Golden-fronted makes a ratcheting-like sound and series of cackling 'kek-kek" calls. Both species come to my suet feeder; the golden-fronted will also carry off sunflower seeds to store for another day's meal.

Our winter residents are the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and the Northern Flicker. The former's name is often used in cartoons to poke fun at birders and their pastime. Many people are surprised to learn that there really is a bird with that name, but his name adequately describes his plumage and his use of tree sap as food and a trap for catching insects. Besides their yellow bellies, sapsuckers have a distinctive white bar on their wings. If you have ever noticed a pattern of equally spaced holes on smooth barked trees, it is the work of this woodpecker.

Flickers in the Hill Country come in two forms, a yellow-shafted (eastern) and a red-shafted (western) When flying the bird's under sides of the wing feather shafts will show either yellow or red. I am pleased to have one of each bird roosting in a building on my place. Both forms have a black bib, spotted breasts and white rump patches. The males have common red nape patches, but differ with different colored "mustache" stripes - black in the yellow-shafted and red in the red-shafted forms.

Flickers often get in trouble with homeowners who have wooden-sided houses. The birds will peck holes in the siding to gain entry to a warm roosting site. Unfortunately they are persistent in their mission to make the hole and often meet the wrath of the homeowner.

Woodpeckers as a whole are beneficial birds, although there are those who might disagree with that assessment. I think they are great birds to have around both to see and hear as they go about their daily activities. Please have patience with their occasional crossing the line and becoming bad-boys.


Post a Comment

<< Home