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Winter Wildlife: Woodpeckers

Get out those binoculars and field guides and plan an hour or a day to explore Michigan's fourth season. Winter wildlife viewing offers uncrowded parks and forested trails. This season offers you views into a woodland unbroken by foliage and filled with the calls and sightings some of Michigan's noisiest residents, the woodpeckers. Michigan is home to eight species of woodpeckers. Two of the most common are the downy and hairy woodpeckers.

Hardwood and mixed hardwood and coniferous forests are home to the easily spotted little Downy woodpecker; North America's smallest woodpecker. It's field markings are distinct, with a small body, white back, and black and white stripped wing bars. The sharply pointed black bill, is used in territorial posturing. Listen for it's fast series of "pick" calls.

Downy woodpeckerIts larger look-a-like is the Hairy woodpecker, another white and black bird. To distinguish the two look at the bird's bill. If the bill is as long as the head, you are looking at a hairy woodpecker. A bill shorter than the length of the head belongs to the "downy." "Hairies" are found in woodland swamps, old apple orchards, and mixed coniferous/hardwood stands. Snags are a favorite roosting place.

Both birds share common characteristics: males have a red feathered head cap and retractable sticky tongues which are ideal for retrieving insects from holes. They can also be easily attracted within viewing distance from your home. Suet mixed with bird seed provides a good energy rich food source that attracts these two Michigan residents. Don't be surprised to see a few other species of woodpeckers at the same feeding station.