|Female hairy woodpecker showing a black back with a white blaze down the middle and white checkering on her black wing feathers.|
|Female red-shafted flicker foraging on the ground at a woodrat nest.|
The flickers are year-round residents and easily recognized by their copper-tan color with black barring and the bold black brand on their chest. We mostly have the red-shafted race here, and those have a orange color to the shaft of their flight feathers. The males of the western states have a showy red malar stripe (=mustache). Occasionally, hybrids of the red-shafted and yellow-shafted flickers show up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The yellow-shafted race of the flickers have a different shade to their flight feathers and the males have a black malar stripe.
|Male red-shafted flicker catching the sunset at the top of a Douglas fir and showing the underside of its tail feathers with distinct orange color and black tip.|
|Red-shafted flicker feather on the forest floor.|
|The wildlife camera catches an acorn woodpecker inspecting the trunk of the persimmon tree.|
|Sliced persimmons waiting to be dehydrated around the winter holidays.|
|Male hairy woodpecker caught by wildlife camera in the persimmon tree.|
|Female hairy woodpecker showing her stout bill.|
Hairy woodpeckers have large black comma-like marks on their white shoulder. Downy woodpeckers might also have black marks at that location but they are a smaller and broken. I'm waiting to see a calm downy woodpecker to confirm that description myself. I did see a small woodpecker today that the Woodchuk firmly declared "downy" with barely a glance, but it moved too fast for me. "It's a dink," he said, "It's a downy."
|Female hairy woodpecker with plain white breast.|
Unlike the red-breasted, red-naped and yellow-bellied sapsuckers in their superspecies category, hairy and downy woodpeckers are not closely related, they've just separately evolved to look and behave in similar ways, so they don't hybridize as do the aforementioned sapsuckers. Why would these two birds look so much alike? Could it be convergent evolution or something else? A biologist and an economist at Yale University recently used game theory to propose that in the Hairy-Downy Game, "a subordinate species [the smaller downy woodpecker] evolves to mimic a dominant species [the larger hairy woodpecker], to deceive the dominant species into misidentifying the mimic as an individual of its own species, and thus to overestimate the mimic’s size and the costs of combat." With game theory on my side, I have absolutely no qualms about my struggles to distinguish hairy from downy woodpeckers.
|Female hairy woodpecker sitting on a persimmon which is about fist sized. She would fill a beer mug.*|
|Male downy woodpecker next to fist-size persimmons. He would fill a coffee cup.*|
Perhaps all this birdwatching went to my head because I flipped the bird-persimmon paradigm around for Thanksgiving. I stuffed a turkey with persimmons and tomatillos and then grilled it outside in the crisp fall air. The turkey had a smoked citrus flavor, and when I added the persimmony stuffing to the crockpot with the carcass, it made a tart caramel broth for my winter soups. Yes, those woodpeckers-sapsuckers are onto something.
Guess what other animal "flies"into the Dipper Ranch tree for a feast of persimmons? Here's your clue until I get around to writing about them next: a fantastic fossorial fellow according to Roald Dahl.
Red-shafted northern flicker, Colaptes auratus cafer
Acorn woodpeckers, Melanerpes formicivorus
Hairy woodpecker, Picoides villosus
Downy woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
Identification of downy versus hairy woodpeckers for the Great Backyard Bird Count
Identification of Woodpeckers with Red Heads for the Great Backyard Bird Count
The Hairy/Downy Game: A Model of Interspecific Social Dominance Mimicry, Richard Prum and Larry Samuelson, Yale University, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 313, November 21, 2012, pages 42-60.
*The description of hairy woodpeckers filling a beer mug and downy woodpeckers filling a coffee cup is from Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion: a Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American Birds, Pete Dunne, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.