Project 366 – Post No. 298 – Black, white and red?

What is Project 366? Read more here.

What is black, white, sometimes red and sits on tree trunks? Woodpeckers of course. It is a fascinating fact that many woodpeckers in the world seem to be black and white, with the males having red on their head. Case in point, our very own Downy Woodpecker vs Hairy Woodpecker vs. Pileated Woodpecker are all black and white with the males having red patches on their heads. The Black-backed Woodpecker is black and White, but with the males having yellow at the back of their head. As it turns out, both red and yellow plumage is caused by the same pigment (specifically carotenoids, which also create orange plumage). Northern Flickers also fit this pattern with black and white on their body and brown/orange on their body with red patches on their heads. As you move south through the american continent this color pattern repeats itself among the various woodpecker species one encounters, e.g. Cream-backed Woodpecker, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Guayaquil Woodpecker, and the Magellanic Woodpecker to mention just a few (but there are many more species fitting this pattern). There are several reasons for this color consistency in woodpeckers. A recent study found that habitat, climate and a shared evolutionary history are strong determinants of woodpecker plumage.

Female Downy Woodpecker going to town at one of the bird feeders in Hermitage Park on a bitterly cold January morning.

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog ( Copyright Mario Pineda.