Of the seven woodpeckers found in Massachusetts, the Downy Woodpecker has the distinction of being both the smallest and most common—they can be found almost anywhere there are trees.
With insects making up the bulk of their diet, downies will pick and peck at tree bark in search of tasty insects and will often crawl out to the tips of smaller branches that larger woodpeckers can’t access. They are also eager feeder visitors, enjoying both seeds and suet.
You’re much less likely to spot the Downy’s larger cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker, which prefers mature forests. They may look alike, but the Hairy’s beak is larger than the Downy’s, and it has all-white outer tail feathers. Both species will drum on trees year-round to communicate but the frequency picks up this time of year as they set up territories. You may even be able to spot the difference by sound: Hairy Woodpeckers drum very fast with long pauses—at least 25 taps/ second; 20 seconds between— while Downy Woodpeckers drum more slowly with shorter pauses—15 taps/second; a few seconds between.
Spotting a Northern Flicker can be truly spectacular. Vocal and conspicuous, flickers may be the most obvious woodpecker in the state of Massachusetts. They don’t visit bird feeders as frequently as their ubiquitous cousins, Downy Woodpeckers, but you may spot one in your backyard or at your birdbath, especially if your yard abuts a wooded area with a mix of trees and open ground. Unlike other woodpeckers, they often feed on the ground, even mixing together with flocks of ground-feeding songbirds, such as robins. Wherever you see one, this handsome bird certainly has unique plumage.
Their tan-brown bodies are patterned with black scalloping or spots, appearing almost polka dotted from a distance. In the East, the undersides of their wing and tail feathers are bright yellow (their Western counterparts have red flight feathers but you won’t see them around here). If you startle one from the ground, you may see a flash of white on its rump. They have a black bib across their breasts, a grey cap with a red nape, and the males sport black “mustache” markings beside their beaks.
These five photos of Northern Flickers were all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2018 contest is open now, so submit your spectacular wildlife and nature photography before the deadline of September 30.
It’s always a treat to spot the iconic pileated woodpecker (unless, of course, you catch one drilling into the side of your house). With their striking black and white plumage and flaming red crests, they are almost prehistoric-looking, like a crow-sided modern pterodactyl.
Woodpeckers have several unique adaptations. Their feet have two toes pointing forward and two pointing rearward with sharp pointed claws that enable them to scale tree trunks and other vertical surfaces to look for food and shelter. Their straight pointed bills and reinforced skulls help them to absorb the constant shock of pecking, chiseling, drilling, and drumming as they hunt for insects (especially carpenter ants) to eat. Their stiff tail feathers act as props (like a third leg) when they climb.
It’s not an everyday occurrence to see a pileated woodpecker, so here are five photos of these remarkable birds from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest for you to enjoy. Submissions for the 2018 photo contest will open in early summer, so keep an eye out!