This week on Birds of Georgetown, GM is exploring woodpeckers.
Woodpeckers, for those not old enough to remember a certain famous cartoon, get their name from how they strike trees with their beak to find bugs to eat.
Here in DC there are a few varieties you might see. (Although typically you hear them first!). Above is the downy woodpecker. It is the smallest common woodpecker. It can be identified partially by its size (normally only 5 to 7 inches long) and its white spots on black wings. The males have a bit of red on top of their heads.
Another small woodpecker you might find in Georgetown is the red-bellied woodpecker:
These guys are a bit bigger than the downy woodpeckers, at 9 to 10 inches. They have a striking reddish orange stripe on their heads, although the female’s stripe is not as prominent:
Another species you might see is the yellow-bellied sapsucker:
But the most spectacular woodpecker you might find around Georgetown (although not very common) is the pileated woodpecker:
These guys are giants (for woodpeckers). They can grow up to 20 inches long. They are likely the largest woodpeckers in the world, assuming the ivory-billed woodpecker is really extinct.
When you see a pileated woodpecker go at a tree, it can be quite a scene. GM once saw one spraying bark like sawdust from a buzz saw. Look at this guy go!:
Fun fact! Woody Woodpecker was originally inspired by an encounter with a acorn woodpecker, but ultimately took most of his physical traits from a pileated woodpecker:
This leads GM to a question: are woodpeckers bad for trees? It depends! They typically only peck at wood that has bugs in it, which most healthy trees don’t. So they can be a problem for sick or dying trees.
Also, the yellow-bellied sapsucker takes a different approach from the others. They peck out a row of holes on trees to allow the sap to flow out. This will attract bugs which the bird returns to eat. So they will attack perfectly healthy trees, and the holes they leave can lead to infection. GM has a sugar maple tree outside his house with about three holes ten feet off the ground that appear to have come from a sapsucker. The tree is only in fair health, so maybe this contributed?
Anyway, woodpeckers are not a common site. So rather than worry about them, just enjoy their occasional visit.