Monday 4 July 2016

The Flag Bird

Today our neighbouring American citizens are celebrating the USA's 240th anniversary. In honour of Independence Day I decided to write a post about the Red-headed Woodpecker (RHWO), also known as...the Flag Bird!

One may wonder how this ICUN near threatened species got that name. Well, as we know the American flag is red, white, and blue. If you look closely, and the bird is in the right lighting, the RHWO is also red, white, and blue!

RHWO are in decline for numerous reasons such as habitat loss. I know that this post is for the Americans, but I just want to note that in Ontario, RHWO have dropped dramatically within the last few years. Most breeding pairs are now located in the lower L. Erie and L. Huron regions. Rondeau, Point Pelee, and the Pinery seem to be "hotspots". Anyway...back to celebrating the states!



The RHWO lives in open woodlands. Cemeteries seem to be of interest to the species. This may be because they are quiet-well, quiet until the birders show-up :)-and are open usually bordered by large mature trees. I took all the photos of RHWO in this post at a graveyard near Tobermory.

RHWO pairs, which stay together for many years, will often reuse a nest cavity year after year.

Competition for nesting cavities is aiding their decline. European Starlings are often the culprit.

RHWO are omnivores, meaning they eat both animal and plant matter. They eat insects, seeds, and fruits. It is said that a third of their diet consists of insects, while the other two thirds is plant material.

Predators of the RHWO are the same for many other birds. Birds of prey, foxes, raccoons, and snakes are some of the main ones. Domestic cats may be the worst when it comes to songbird predation.

Eastern Garter Snake

Happy Fourth of July!


· RHWO are one of four North American woodpeckers that store food, and is the only one that covers the food with wood or bark.

· RHWO fiercely protect and defend their territory. They may remove or damage the eggs of other species

· RHWO benefited from the chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease outbreaks of the 1900s. The diseases destroyed the tree population, but provided lots of nest locations and foraging opportunities.

· RHWO have a place in human culture. Cherokee Indians had the species as a war symbol, and it is part of Henry W. Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha.

· RHWO has a lot of nicknames, such as half-a-shirt, shirt-tail bird, jellycoat, the flying checker-board, and of course flag bird.

· Pleistocene-age fossils of RHWO—up to 2 million years old—have been recovered in the states of Florida, Virginia, and Illinois.

· RHWO was the “spark bird” of  great ornithologist Alexander Wilson in the 1700s. "Spark Bird" refers to the species that starts an interest in birds for a particular person.

· The oldest RHWO on record was banded 1926 in Michigan and lived to be at least 9 years, 11 months old.

Sources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Wikipedia, (Fireworks Image), (USA Flag Image)

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