Bill Golden Photography

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The Woodpeckers of Rockefeller Preserve

Knock, knock. Who or what is that knocking? If you are in the preserve, it’s probably one of several types of woodpeckers that inhabit Rockefeller Park.

We have woodpeckers year round. To find them, just listen for that knocking sound or one of the distinctive calls that are made by woodpeckers. They are in every part of the park where there are trees. The best time of the year to see them is in late fall, winter and early spring when there are no leaves on the trees to obscure the view.

So what types of woodpeckers can we find in Rockefeller Park? Here are four types of woodpeckers from Rockefeller Park that I have seen and photographed .

1 – Pileated Woodpeckers – Pileated Woodpeckers make a loud knocking sound as they chisel away creating cavities in dead trees as they search for insects. If you have ever seen a Woody Woodpecker cartoon you will recognize the call of the Pileated  Woodpecker. While Woody was supposedly inspired by the Acorn Woodpecker, his famous laugh is said to bear a slight resemblance to the call of a Pileated Woodpecker.

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the woodpeckers that I see in the preserve. But when I see one of them, it’s is a real treat because they are elusive and secretive. They are the largest and the noisiest of the woodpeckers in the preserve. They are about the  size of a crow.  I took this photograph of a male Pileated Woodpecker. I knew it was a male because they have the red striped cheeks.

Pileated Woodpecker Rockefeller Park


2 – Downy Woodpeckers – In contrast, Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest of the woodpeckers. They are about 6 inches and make a peeping sound. They have black and white stripes. The males have a small red spot on the back of their heads.

Males and females have different pecking strategies. The males peck at trees looking for insects while the females lift the bark looking for insects. Below is a photograph that I took of a Downy Woodpecker. The hairy woodpecker looks very much like the Downy Woodpecker, only larger, about 9 inches, and has a louder “peep.”

Downy Woodpecker Rockefeller Park


3 – Red-bellied Woodpecker  – One of the more commonly seen woodpeckers is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. They are about 10 inches. The make a shrill “churr, churr” sound. The male has a red head and only a small amount of red on the belly. The female has only red on half of her head and even less red on her belly than the male. Males initiate the building of nests and attract the females to them through calls and tapping. When a female accepts the overtures of a suitor, they complete the nest together.

Below is a photograph that I took of a male Red-bellied Woodpecker alongside the nest he was building. Some people mistakenly think the Red-bellied Woodpecker is the Red-headed Woodpecker. The red-headed woodpecker’s entire head is red and it is a dark red. They are rare in our area. I have never seen a Red-headed Woodpecker in Rockefeller Park although I have seen them and photographed them in Croton Point Park.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Rockefeller Park


4 – Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is also a member of the woodpecker family. They are about 8 to 9 inches. Unlike the previously described woodpeckers, the yellow-bellied sapsucker is migratory. The males have a patch of red on their throat. The female’s throats are pale. Both have a patch of red on their foreheads and very pale yellow bellies..

You can easily identify which trees Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been pecking by the series of small holes they leave behind. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill a series of deep holes in sap-producing trees such as maple trees. They drink the sap but also eat the insects that are then drawn to the sap.

My experience has been that Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers tend to return to the same trees repeatedly. In spring, Red-throated Hummingbirds feed on these sap wells. One strategy I employ is to repeatedly revisit the trees that I know are favorites of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I keep seeing yellow-bellied sapsuckers returning, but so far I have not witnessed the hummingbirds there. One of these trees is right on the path going from the visitor center to Swan Lake. Below is a photograph of the male Sapsucker that I took on that tree.


Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker


When you are on the trails looking for woodpeckers, you are most likely to find them by being quiet and listening for their sounds. Take your time. Stop, listen and watch. If you want a close-up view, use binoculars or a spotting scope. Wait long enough for the woodpecker to give away its location with repeated pecks and calls. Wait for it to make its way down and around a tree. You will be rewarded for your patience because they spend a lot of time on a tree before flying off to the next.

If you miss one that flies off before you can locate it, keep looking and listening. You are bound to see woodpeckers in the preserve because there are so many of them. Most of them are here all year long, and they are so noisy that you can’t miss them.




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