Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.
For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.
This comprehensive guide to all 28 species of North American woodpeckers offers species profiles for extant and extinct species. Each entry includes a lovely photograph of the starring bird and information on identification, distribution, habitat, voice, feeding, breeding, migration and other important data. The text also discusses the place of the woodpecker in the ecosystem and in folklore and myths. Annotation © 2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
|Publisher:||Firefly Books, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||8.40(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Frances Backhouse has written articles for Audubon, Equinox, Canadian Geographic, New Scientist and Canadian Wildlife.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: What Is a Woodpecker? Woodpeckers are among the most ancient of all birds. A 25-million-sear-old fossil leg bone from Germany, a feather trapped in Caribbean amber that dates back an least 24 million years, and cavities in 40- to 50-million-year-old petrified wood from Arizona and Wyoming offer tantalizing clues as to when woodpeckers first diverged from their less specialized ancestors. The question of where this happened remains shrouded in mystery. The Americas, Asia and Africa have each been proposed by different experts as the home of the earliest woodpeckers.
Today, members of the Picidae or woodpecker family (often referred to as picids) are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica and inhabit many of the world's major islands, the most notable omissions being New Zealand, New Guinea, the Oceania island chain in the South Pacific, Hawaii,
Madagascar, Greenland and Iceland. This large family is divided into three sub-families: the Jynginae or wrynecks. represented by two species; the Picumninae or piculets, with 31 species; and the Picinae, also known as the true woodpeckers, with 183 species. No wrynecks or piculets reside in North America.
All of the true woodpeckers are hole-nesters with the ability to excavate their own cavities, generally in trees or tree substitutes such as columnar cacti or telephone poles. As a result, to a greater or lesser extent the Picinae subfamily has a number of distinctive morphological (structural) features: a long, stiff tail for bracing against tree trunks; short legs and long toes to assist in climbing vertical surfaces; a head built to withstand repeated hammering against hard surfaces; a long, straight bill designed for chopping into wood, removing bark or probing into crevices; a long, extensible tongue with a barbed end, able to reach deep into narrow openings and extract hidden prey; and nostrils covered with feathers to keep them free of wood debris. These attributes (described in more detail in Chapter 2) are displayed most completely by the most highly specialized tree excavators
The first part of a species' scientific name indicates the genus (plural: genera) to which it belongs. The second part completes its unique species identification. Worldwide there are 24 genera within the Picinae subfamily. The true woodpeckers are represented by seven genera in North America Picoides, Melanerpes, Sphyrapicus, Colaptes, Piculus, Dryocopus and Campephilus which together include 28 species. Because members of the same genus are more closely related to each other than to other woodpeckers, they typically share certain physical characteristics, including body size and plumage patterns, as well as behavioral traits such as feeding habits.
Woodpeckers that belong to the same genus often wear similar "sexual badges", the red (or in a few cases. yellow) head markings that differentiate adult males and females of most species. Only three North American woodpecker species the red-headed woodpecker, Lewis's woodpecker and the red-breasted sapsucker are sexually monochromatic, meaning that males and females cannot be distinguished by their plumage colors and patterns. All other North American woodpeckers are dichromatic, meaning that adult males and females have different plumage. Males of these latter species invariably display more conspicuous sexual badges than their female counterparts. The females may have no equivalent markings or their badges may be a smaller or less prominent version of the male's. Sexual size differences are not pronounced in most woodpecker species.
Picoides is the largest in North America, with nine species: the American three-toed, Arizona, black-backed, downy, hairy, ladder-backed, Nuttall's, red-cockaded and white-headed woodpeckers. Sometimes collectively referred to as pied woodpeckers because of their mixed black-and-white plumage (brown-and-white in the case of the Arizona woodpecker), these are small to medium-sized woodpeckers. Their sexual badges are red except for those of the American three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers, whose males sport yellow caps and are worn on the forehead, crown or nape. In this genus the males tend to be slightly heavier than females and have proportionally longer bills and shorter tails, though these differences are not generally obvious in the field. The Picoides woodpeckers have straight, chisel-tipped bills and are largely insectivorous.
Table of Contents
- What is a Woodpecker?
Introduction: Nature's Map
- Tapping and Tongue Drumming
- Vocal Development
- Visual Displays
- Aggressive Encounters
- Feeding Nestlings
- Nest Hygiene
- Learning Independence
- Mating Strategies
- Nest Site Selection
- Cavity Preparation
- Sexual Activity
- Foraging Techniques
- Feeding Strategies
- Storing Food
- Applied Ingenuity
- Preening, Bathing and Anting
- Ecosystem Architects
- Keystone Feeding Relationships
- Mixed Species Feeding Flocks
- Predator/Prey Relationships
- Traditional Uses
- Hunting Woodpeckers for Fun and Profit
- The Nuisance Factor
- From Forests to Tree Farms
- Fire Suppression and Salvage Logging
- Ecosystem-based Management
- Watching Woodpeckers
- North American Species Profiles
- American three-toed woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis)
- Arizona woodpecker (Picoides arizonae)
- Black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus)
- Downy woodpecker
- Hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
- Ladder-backed woodpecker( Picoides scalaris)
- Nuttall's woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)
- Red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis)
- White-headed woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus)
- Acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
- Gila woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis)
- Golden-fronted woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons)
- Lewis's woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)
- Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
- Red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
- Red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)
- Red-naped sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)
- Williamson's sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)
- Gilded flicker (Colaptes chrysoides)
- Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)
- Golden-olive woodpecker (Piculus rubiginosus)
- Gray-crowned woodpecker (Piculus auricularis)
- Lineated woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus)
- Pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
- Imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis)
- Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis)
- Pale-billed woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis)
Northern flickers and downy woodpeckers are regular visitors to my urban yard, yet every time I hear their distinctive calls or their rhythmic tapping high in the old poplar that towers over my garden I feel compelled to suspend whatever I'm doing and look for the perpetrator. If I'm out hiking, these sounds or the sight of a woodpecker invariably stops me in my tracks as I reach for my binoculars.
Researching and writing Woodpeckers of North America has allowed me to indulge my passion for these remarkable birds, delving into more than a century's worth of scientific literature and naturalists' records. It is my pleasure to offer this wealth of information and anecdote to others who share my interest in and curiosity about woodpeckers.
Whether you read my book from cover to cover, browse through chapters randomly or consult the species profiles to find out about particular woodpeckers, I hope it will enhance your understanding of these birds and your appreciation of the role they play in the ecosystem.
Most field guides to the birds of North America limit their geographic reach to Canada and the United States. Although convenient, this practice warrants reconsideration. After all, political borders mean nothing to our winged neighbors. As far as the gila woodpecker is concerned, the saguaro desert of Arizona is little different from the saguaro desert of Sonora, Mexico. The same goes for other species with international citizenship. From an ecosystem perspective, the continent is bigger than just two countries.
Having decided that this book should reflect ecological reality, I was faced with the dilemma of where to draw the line. Through the Isthmus of Panama, following the lead of the American Ornithologists' Union? Along Mexico's southern border, in keeping with various governmental alliances and trade agreements? Somewhere across the middle of Mexico? After much deliberation I concluded that, when it comes to woodpeckers, the latter approach makes the most sense.
During the 19th century, zoogeographers developed the concept of partitioning the terrestrial portions of the planet into faunal regions vast areas characterized by their distinctive animal life. This system is still widely used today, in a modified form that recognizes eight biogeographical realms instead of the original six faunal regions. In simple terms, Canada, the continental United States and northern Mexico are assigned to the Nearctic realm (along with Greenland and Bermuda), while southern Mexico joins Central and South America and the Caribbean islands in the Neotropical realm. Although debate continues as to the exact boundary between the two realms, the least complicated interpretation uses the tropic of Cancer (the latitudinal line 23 degrees 27 degrees north of the equator) as the reference line. I have done the same.
There will be those who quibble with this demarcation, saying it inappropriately includes species that are primarily thought of as Central or South American residents, such as the golden-olive or pale-billed woodpecker. Others will question why the line was not drawn farther south to encompass the ranges of species that share some affinities with northern relatives, one obvious example being Strickland's woodpecker, a Mexican endemic that was only recently designated as distinct from the Arizona woodpecker. The truth is, there is no one incontestable definition of North America. What really matters is that we move beyond an outdated allegiance to political boundaries and try to see the map as nature would draw it.