Red-headed Woodpeckers at Sand Lake

This wonderful video and narrative was provided by AVA member Larry VanWagoner. His wife, Sue lead the field trip to the Red-headed Woodpecker area during the Tawas Point Birding Festival this past May.

“Please find attached a video I took on 6/25 at the Red-headed Woodpecker habitat on the SW end of Sand Lake.

I used a point-and-shoot camera attached to my spotting scope. The scope/camera was mounted on a tripod head that was clamped to my vehicle window. I used the vehicle as a ‘blind’ . This allowed me to approach to within about 50 m to photograph the birds.

Earlier in the week Sue and I found the nest by sitting in the forest and watching for adult RHWO to visit the same tree repeatedly. These birds with their black and white coloring that ‘flashes’ when they fly are very easy to spot against a green forest background.

There were only two chicks in this nest.

When I visited the nest two days after taking this video, this nest was empty, and the adults were bringing food to places out of sight, high in the surrounding trees.

In my experience, Red-headed Woodpeckers feed their chicks only insects. The adults frequently are found setting on the sides of trees observing their surroundings. Then, they will swoop to the ground to grab an insect, which they may immediately take to their chicks. Other times, they’ll wait until they have captured more than one insect before taking them to the brood.

While adult RHWO have a totally red head down to their shoulders, with white chest, black back, and black and white wings. Both sexes look identical. Fledglings have a greyish- brown head, and a whitish-grey back and front. The young fledglings have a call distinctly different from the adults.

Many RHWO around Sand Lake seem to spend the winter here. In the winter, they appear to eat acorns they have stashed in ‘larder trees’. On the coldest of winter days, Sue and I find these birds clinging to the sunlit sides of trees with multiple woodpecker holes.

Sue and I counted 54 adults Red-headed Woodpeckers in the area around Sand Lake one very cold but sunny day in late February 2015.”

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