Hairy/Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers at Oxtongue Lake

Male Hairy Woodpecker checking out logs in the ground

Canada Geese on Oxtongue Lake, Ontario

In early fall one year, at Oxtongue Lake, near Algonquin Park, it was obvious that various birds were on the move given the changing season in Ontario.  Among the birds heading south, of course, were flocks of Canada Geese.

But one type of bird we saw along the lake’s edge had no intention of heading south.  In fact, it was preparing to once again weather the winter at Oxtongue Lake.  This was a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers (Picoides villosus).

The female, with its long bill, was very busy foraging amongst the folds of birch bark on a white birch tree not far from my dad’s beach.

Meanwhile, its partner, a male Hairy Woodpecker, was busily searching for bugs and grubs among some of the logs on my dad’s shoreline.  With the flash of red on the back of its head, the male Hairy Woodpecker really stands out against the grey tree trunk.

As I have seen so many times at Oxtongue, Hairy Woodpeckers just love to get in amongst fallen logs where they search high and low for a quick snack.  With Bob and me standing slightly hidden behind a tree, this Hairy Woodpecker only interrupted his hunt for a couple of quick glances in our direction.

Hairy Woodpeckers are but one of many different types of Woodpeckers that can often be  seen here in the province of Ontario.  Along with Hairy Woodpeckers, Ontario also is home to the Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and the Pileated Woodpecker.  To date, Bob and I have seen six out of these 10 different types of woodpeckers.

pileated woodpecker, Rouge National Park2

Recently, in the Rouge National Park near Toronto, Ontario, we were fortunate enough to see this Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), which is one of the largest North American woodpeckers living in our Great Lakes region.

Pileated woodpecker works at getting lunch

Pileated Woodpecker holes in tree

Chipped out hole - by pileated woodpecker

The Pileated woodpecker makes quick business of a fallen tree trunk when it is foraging for insects.  Its preferred foods are carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae, which actually are killing a lot of trees here in Ontario.  So it was great to watch this Pileated woodpecker work with such precision at locating and devouring harmful insects that pose a threat to our trees.   Although rarely seen around peoples’ homes, Pileated woodpeckers are known to come to backyard bird feeders during harsh winter conditions.

Downy Woodpecker hold on to nut

In our own backyard, a female Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is a regular visitor at the peanut silo feeder.  This is one of the smaller sized woodpeckers in Ontario.  But size aside, this small woodpecker has no problem defending its spot at the feeding station.

Downy Woodpecker gives us a look

I am always amazed at just how relaxed this Downy woodpecker is in my backyard.  She just holds on tight with her little claws, stops to see what I am doing and then gets right back to the business at hand.

Downy Woodpecker back

Downy Woodpecker tail

The Downy woodpecker’s plumage looks very much like that of a Hairy woodpecker.

In this video, the Downy woodpecker retrieves pieces of peanuts from the feeder, much like it would bore for insects in a tree.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

On one occasion, a few years ago, a Yellow-bellied sapsucker visited a bug-infested tree in our neighbor’s backyard.  We were able to observe his movements for about an hour before it flew away.

Flicker at Oxtongue Lake 1

It is very common to see Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) at Oxtongue Lake.  They, too, are members of the woodpecker family.  Northern Flickers are one of the few woodpeckers that migrate, however, a couple of years ago, we had a northern flicker frequenting our Toronto bird feeder well into November.  It is always exciting to see them return in the springtime, knowing that they will help curb the grub  and ant population.

In this video, birdwatchers visiting from England spot a pair of Northern flickers and a Ring-necked Pheasant in the community of Oxtongue Lake, Ontario.

As we witnessed at Oxtongue Lake recently, many woodpeckers, such as this Hairy woodpecker, will scale a tree using their nimble feet in order to search for insects hiding in the crevices of the tree bark.

I was fascinated with the dainty claws on this male Hairy woodpecker’s feet.  Securely clinging to the tree, he was intent upon enlarging this hole in the bark by hammering at it with his beak.  Unlike most birds, woodpeckers do not sing; they only make various types of noises.  The number one way they communicate with each other is by tapping or hammering out various rhythms on things like tree limbs, but sometimes a tin roof is a good substitute!!

This woodpecker spent a lot of time around the old hole you can see on my dad’s tree.  If the woodpecker were to enlarge this hole substantially by pecking at it, the resulting cavity could become the new home for a chickadee or a nuthatch in the springtime.  So this little guy is sort of doing double duty:  he is ridding the tree of insects and is creating a possible nesting site.

For more information about woodpeckers in North America, checkout: Cornell Lab Of Ornithology

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2 comments

  • Just found your blog this morning and have already spent hours visiting your interesting site. What wonderful photography. Thanks for sharing it all with us. Claudette

    • Claudette, thanks so much for your kind comments. Bob and I are happy to share our enthusiasm for the world of nature. We get great pleasure from being out there, experiencing the elements, exploring, and admiring the wonderful creatures of the animal kingdom.

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