(Chelsea Update would like to thank Tom Hodgson and the Waterloo Natural History Association for the information and photos in this story.)
Woodpeckers that visit local feeders in Chelsea are permanent residents. They nest here in summer and remain through the winter season. They are hole-nesters, most often excavating nesting cavities in dead or dying trees or large, dead branches. And, they feed primarily on insects, which they dig from dead trees with their powerful bills and long, sticky, rasp-like tongues.
Woodpeckers are especially attracted to beef suet (fat), either in cake form, hung in mesh bags, or packed into holes in “suet logs.” In the wild, they find animal fat in the carcass remains of animals killed by predators, or even road kill. Fat is a high calorie, high energy food valued by many kinds of wintering wildlife.
Woodpeckers that regularly visit local backyard bird feeders include the following:
Downy Woodpecker: This is our smallest woodpecker, no bigger than most sparrows and measuring about 6 inches from bill tip to tail. It has a white belly and back, and black wings with white bars.
The male has a small, red patch on the back of its head. Although it is supposed to have been given its name because of the downy feathers on its back, this feature is not very obvious.
Like most woodpeckers, the Downy also has downy feathers around the base of its bill to keep saw dust from going up its nose during drilling.
Hairy Woodpecker: This bird appears to be a larger version of the downy and measures about 9 inches. Its bill is much larger and longer than that of the downy. This bird gets its name from hair-like feathers on its back, but again this feature is not obvious. The male also has a small red patch on the back of its head.
Red-bellied Woodpecker: This bird is named for the wash of reddish color on its underside, which is often hard to see because its belly is usually pressed against a tree trunk. Much more noticeable is the black-and-white barring on the back, and the red band across the top of the head and down the back of the neck in the male.
The red band on the female is restricted to the back of the head and neck.
Northern Flicker: (pictured above) The colorful Northern flicker is an impressive bird when viewed at close range. Its back is barred with black and brown. Its belly is spotted and it sports a bold, black V marking on its chest. On the back of the head is a red V. The male also has a black tear drop mark at each corner of its mouth. Both male and female flash a bold, white, rump patch as they fly away.