It’s Raining Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and Cedar Waxwings

On yet another recent rainy day, I noticed some starlings splashing in the puddle at the side of our driveway. This was no half-hearted bathing. They were flapping great jets of water up into the air, despite the heavy spattering of rain.

I decided to get my camera to see if I could catch a shot. When I came back upstairs, I saw a large flock of robins had moved into the crabapple tree, both underneath on the lawn and on the tree branches. Our poor resident male robin was trying to chase the others off the branches, but didn’t mind if they ate the fallen berries on the ground.

As new robins kept flying in and others flying out, I called my husband to come help me count. Ever patient, he came to look.

Just then, several waxwings landed in the tree. They are one of his favourite birds, bringing back fond memories of a visit to one of his brothers. (Hi, BIL!)

We looked closely and decided they were cedar waxwings. They are the most common waxwings to visit our neighbourhood. It was still raining heavily, but I decided to venture out under the porch roof to try to get a photo of the waxwings.

Just then, my husband said, “There’s a woodpecker with a red head on the tree too. Look!”
And there was. It had a vividly red head, but only on the top and back of its neck, not on the front of the face. It was larger than the robins and much larger than our friendly downies. It was not pileated size, though, nor did it look at all like one.

I was, of course, trying to take its photo. But the camera insisted on auto-focusing on the branches obscuring my view, not on the bird.

In sock feet with no sweater or coat, I stepped out into the teeming rain. Argh! How could the birds have been bathing in this ice water! It was 5 C outside, but the puddles felt colder.

Of course, the woodpecker flew. I took random photos towards it, hoping for anything they might tell us. I had an impression of brown, and of many fine lines of light and dark.
After retreating to the relative warmth of the house (and a dry pair of socks!) I pulled out my Peterson field guide to see what it could tell me about red headed woodpeckers.
Apparently, in southern Ontario there are two types. One is appropriately called a “Red Headed Woodpecker.” The other is called the Red Bellied Woodpecker.

Now where do you think the red should be on a Red Bellied Woodpecker? Well it is, but it’s not.

As far as I could see, the only red on the bird is on the head and neck. The female has red only on the back of the neck, not on the top of the head.

However, apparently this woodpecker has a patch of red on its belly that is usually hidden by the buff tummy feathers. Sort of like the red on a kingbird’s head.

I think they could have come up with a name that included the vivid red on the head and neck, instead of naming it after a difficult-to-see bit.

Anyway, it was great to see one, even for such a fleeting visit.

And it was a timely reminder that even on a windy, rainy day it’s worth watching what’s around. We would have missed the waxwings and the red bellied woodpecker if we had only looked 5 minutes earlier or 5 minutes later.

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Have you ever seen a red headed or a red bellied woodpecker? Are they common where you live? Please share your observations with a comment.

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