Woodpeckers & Flickers

All woodpeckers have distinctive features adapting them to their work and lives on the edges of trees: stiff, propping tails that assist their creeping up tree sides and stout, chisel-bills for wood-drilling. Their flight patterns are deeply undulating, typically flying from tree to tree. (In our area, it's often from saguaro to saguaro.) They have strong contrasting colorations, and usually the sexes differ in head color patterns. Woodpeckers also have very long tongues, which are usually barbed and sticky to facilitate capturing insects hidden inside wood.

Gilded Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides)

One of our most strikingly beautiful birds, this woodpecker shares with its close relative the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) a distinctive oval patch on the breast and a red malar streak in the adult male, visible on the bird below left; note also the distinctively yellow line along the edge of the primary feathers of this bird. The two images below also illustrate (best seen in the enlargements) another characteristic feature of woodpeckers: their "zygodactyl" feet, with two toes forward and two back -- see below right -- but when climbing the stance rotates to an "ectropodactyl" arrangement, with the outer rear toe rotated to the side as seen below left. (See Sibley 2001, p. 377)

Click on each image to enlarge it.

Flickers are large relative to other woodpeckers, and they often move to the ground to eat ants. They have white rumps, visible when in flight.

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis)

The Gila Woodpecker lives in closer association with saguaro cacti than do the Flickers (who we tend to see in more mixed-woodland terrain). They typically nest in saguaros. Below, a male (left) and female (right) Gila converse atop a familiar saguaro on April 8, 2008. Here the faintly reddish hue of the male's facial and breast feathers is intensified by the setting sun (it was 6:45 pm).

We photographed this female Gila Woodpecker below in Lower Hot Springs Canyon in February 2006. The head and the belly are this distinctive tan color (with a red patch on the crown of the male). The back and the tail are black-barred against white, and this barred pattern extends down the rump onto the upper legs. Note in the image at bottom left how the stiff woodpecker's tail serves as both a balancer and a brace when the bird is climbing (in this case, around a sharp-edged overhang). Click on each image to enlarge it.

This apprears to be a Ladderback Woodpecker. They are quite common in our area, but harder to photograph.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


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