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Petey

Woodpecker / Southern Indiana

12 posts in this topic

We've had a frequent Woodpecker visitor to the feeders and yard.  By all accounts (size and markings), it appears to be a Red Cockaded as it's small and there is no distinguishable red marking that I can see with the field glasses.  The thing is, that would put it way off track, besides the fact it is rare enough.  I've got the camera handy and am hoping to get a shot sometime but that's tricky at best.  Is there a chance it is a female or young Downy?  I got fooled by birds' gender and age once before with a lime-green bird that turned out to be a Goldfinch.

Pete 

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Very likely that it's a female downy -- they don't have a red patch at all, so the description fits.  If it's on the larger side, that would make it a female hairy instead...

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I guess the answer to your question is yes, there is chance it is  a female Downy.  You didn't really say what the markings on the bird were, and this is of course critical.  Both female Downys and Red-cockadeds are black and white woodpeckers.  It's the pattern (and the size of the bird) that tells the difference.  There has never been an accepted record of Red-cockaded in Indiana.

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Pardon my lack of descriptiveness.  Yes, it's marked very much like either; Downy or Red Cockaded but it is very small.  It is about the size of a small sparrow with the black and white scattered throughout; pale underside, if I remember correctly (often I don't, unfortunately); black cap; doesn't have a mask or any red on it.  Definitely a Woodpecker, though, as it's rather amusing to watch it hammering away at the sides of the feeder sometimes.  Trying to get a photo, today, is rendered more difficult with nearby kids blowing off fireworks... sigh.  I'd be happy to field any other questions that may enlighten me as I'm definitely a novice, though learning.  FYI... birds we're currently enjoying to see in our yard: Ruby Throated Hummingbirds, Goldfinches, House Finches, Cowbirds, Cardinals, Grackles, Pileated Wookpecker, Downy Woodpecker, misc Sparrows and Doves, Red Winged Blackbird, Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, and more.  We're on the edge of town but border tallish, heavily wooded hills (deer, coons, possums, rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional woodchuck run about, especially later in the evening).  I've only been getting into birdwatching a couple of years and am really enjoying it.

Pete 

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Petey:

Yes, it's marked very much like either; Downy or Red Cockaded but it is very small.  It is about the size of a small sparrow with the black and white scattered throughout; pale underside, if I remember correctly (often I don't, unfortunately); black cap; doesn't have a mask or any red on it.  ... I've only been getting into birdwatching a couple of years and am really enjoying it.

Welcome to birdwatching and WhatBird, Pete.  Your description is sure sounding like a female Downy - small, black and white woodpecker with a pale underside.  The Red-cockaded is somewhat larger, and has black markings on its white underside. 

Come on back for help anytime, that's what we're here for.

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Thanks - both of you.  If I do get a picture in the near future, I'll post it.  My wife put some suet out there just a little while ago and in no time flat we had a Red Headed Woodpecker and its mate there!  When I first spotted them, the male was feeding the female from the suet.  Had I not seen her with him, I'd not have known she was a the same species as they're not colored anything alike at all.

Pete 

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You may have a juvenile and adult red-headed woodpecker at your feeders, because male and female are indistinguishable from each other, as far as I know.  That would also explain why one was feeding the other.

I doubt your other woodpecker is a red-cockaded, since as has been mentioned, it would be a very unusual sighting of an already rare bird.  Red-cockaded woodpecker is decidedly larger than the bird you're describing, nearer the size of the red-headed woodpecker.  A good mark to tell the difference (besides the size) is that the red-cockaded is solidly zebra striped across its back, whereas the downy and hairy woodpeckers (while they do have black and white spangled wings) have a rather wide swath of white down the back.

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That would make sense... I was given the impression they were mates because of their size.  The juvenile was nearly the size of the Redhead feeding it: approx. 10" or more tall, both of them.  The juvenile was all brown with a lighter shade of that spangled (if you'll allow me to borrow your good term, there) into its coloring.

Your size definition convinces me better of the other being a female Downy.  I hadn't noticed a white swath down its back (though the spangling is apparent - not striped) but, then again, it's usually perched where the wings would undoubtedly hide a white swath; otherwise, it's very fast in flight and it would be hard to get a make on that.  All the birds are fast, today; the neighbors must have spent a small fortune on fireworks.  Harrumph! 

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Something to keep in mind regarding size is that, for most birds, the juveniles don't leave the nest until they're almost the same size as the adults.

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That's where I've found the biggest problem in identification - age and gender.  It would be good if there were better illustration at this site to cover all - for novices such as myself.  Then again, I've found Google Images can be pretty handy for that, sometimes.

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The sibley guide shows a good number of the juvenile and intermediate plumages.  It comes in eastern, western, and North American version  Here is a link to the web version if you are not in the market to buy the hard copy.

http://sibley.enature.com/home.asp

Scott

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