A Red-headed Woodpecker Winter

A little later in the morning I stopped for a while to watch a Red-headed Woodpecker that has spent this winter in trees around one particular yard in our neighborhood. I can usually hear its somewhat harsh, rolling churrr, or – if it’s quiet and I stop to look for it – can find it high up on the trunk of one of the trees. When it’s quiet, a Red-headed Woodpecker can be surprisingly unobtrusive. Despite its flashy coloring, somehow it can manage to blend in with the black and gray and white of the winter trees. But once found, those colors pop out and amaze – a full deep-red head; a snow-white breast, black back, and broad white panels on the wings. It looks like a flag in flight – with its big, bold pattern of red, black and white.

I found it this morning on what seems to be its favorite tall, bare, half-dead water oak, up near the very top, working on a stub. It’s the same craggy tree that a pair of Mississippi Kites seemed to like for a perch last summer. For a few moments I stayed, admiring its colors and watching it work, before it flew, heading deeper into the trees along a creek. 

This winter at least four Red-headed Woodpeckers have spent the winter months here in Summit Grove. This is the first time I have ever been aware of more than one – though, of course, I might have missed one now and then. So this year I’ve tried to take advantage of the opportunity to watch them as often as possible. 

They all stay well spaced-out and solitary, each one in its own particular area of the neighborhood. Two are mature and vividly colored. One is a juvenile, in more subdued colors, with a full brown head and dark-brownish back. The fourth, I haven’t seen, but have heard calling many times from a low, wooded area near a creek and a power cut and a water treatment plant. Their distinctive rolling churrr has become very familiar this season – in part because one of the mature woodpeckers has stayed in trees around the edge of our own back yard, which slopes down steeply to a creek. It’s a rare delight on a winter day to walk out and hear its call and sometimes see it fly to a tree nearby – it never fails to surprise me with the simple, remarkable fact that it is here. 

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