Woodpeckers in the neighborhood


The loud hammering of a woodpecker is a sound I enjoy hearing.
They are some of my favorite birds, and I try to attract them to the feeders in my yard every winter.
I put out several suet blocks, which are their favorite, and I also have two feeders that hold whole peanuts, which are also high on their food list.
The downy woodpecker is the most common in my yard.
They are small, only about six inches long, with a white back and belly, black-and-white-striped head, and mostly black wings. The males have a red spot on the back of their neck. Both sexes have a short bill.
Another very similar bird is the hairy woodpecker.
They are not as common at my feeders, preferring wooded areas.
The hairy markings look like the downy except this bird is slightly larger, being about nine inches long. Their bill is also longer than the downy.
The two species would be easier to identify if they were side by side, but I’ve never had that happen.
Going up the size scale, the red-bellied woodpecker is another bird that dines on my suet and peanuts.
Slightly larger than the hairy woodpecker, it is about 10 inches long. It is covered with black and white bars on its back. It has a brownish chest. Despite its name, the red on its belly is usually hard to see. It has white patches on its back and wings, which are easy to see when it is flying. This woodpecker’s bill is long and heavy.
About the same size, from nine to 10 inches long, the red-headed woodpecker is a gorgeous bird.
It has a completely bright red head and neck, white belly, and black back and wings, with white patches on the wings. When I was young (many years ago), this bird was not common in this area, but not rare either. Now, it is a rare sight to see one around here. It is unmistakable if you see one.
The pileated woodpecker is another striking bird, first because of its size. It is by far the largest woodpecker we have in our area. It is almost a foot and a half long. It’s mostly black with a white stripe on its neck and up across his face to the bill. Both sexes have a bright red crest on the head coming back to a point.
I have talked to many folks in our area who say this is a common bird to their property, but I only see them a couple times a year in my yard.
They will come to a large suet feeder I hang on a big maple tree in our back yard. When they start hammering on the suet, it looks like chips flying from a chainsaw. In just a couple minutes, an entire block of suet will be gone.
When we used to visit my in-laws in central Florida, the pileated woodpeckers were common in the neighborhood and their noise was almost constant.
I cannot write a column about woodpeckers without mentioning the largest woodpecker ever in the United States.
While I will never see one in our area, or probably anywhere else since it is either extinct or almost gone, the ivory-billed woodpecker is probably my favorite bird.
I have several books on my shelves, including “The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker” by James T. Tanner and “The Grail Bird” by Tim Gallagher.
I have met the author and have an autographed copy of “The Grail Bird.” It is about his search for the ivory-billed woodpecker in the swamps of Arkansas, where the last official sighting of the bird occurred.
But researchers like Gallagher keep looking, and every decade or so, someone reports another sighting of the ivory bill.
This book follows Gallagher not only searching for the bird, but also searching for people who live in the area who have reported a sighting.
With Bobby Harrison, the author of this book wades through cottonmouth-infested swamps and kayaks through the muddy waters talking to locals who say the bird is still alive.
During their searches, both Gallagher and Harrison, two qualified observers, see an ivory-billed woodpecker fly by their kayaks. This book is one of my favorites, and I have read it several times.
While this bird has been declared extinct, the search continues, and undocumented reports still come out of the swamps of Arkansas and Louisiana.
Rich Creason is an award-winning outdoors and travel writer whose work has appeared in local, regional, national and international publications for 40 years. Born in Anderson, he is a graduate of Markleville High School. He lives in South Madison County with his wife, Susie. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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