Red-headed woodpeckers provide summer entertainment

(Above) Daddy long legs were a favorite summer entrée for this red-headed woodpecker. -Photo by Lowell Washburn.

by Lowell Washburn

The red-headed woodpecker is one of Iowa’s best-known birds.  It is also one of our most popular.  Easily recognized by its redder than red head, black and white checkerboard plumage, and bluish chiseled bill; it would be hard to mistake this bird for anything else.  Getting up close and personal, I’ve recently enjoyed the opportunity to observe the daily activities of a red-headed pair nesting in the woodlands adjacent to Clear Lake’s south shore.

The red-headed woodpecker is an amazing creature.  Like all woodpeckers, the red-headed uses its built-in, chisel-shaped bill to excavate its nest site – which in this case is a four-inch-wide, fifteen-inch deep cavity.  Most, but not all, nests are bored into dead wood.  Always amazing, the feat is never more remarkable than when the birds decide to tunnel into the seemingly impenetrable wood of live oaks or brand new, hard as rock utility poles.

Although red-headed woodpeckers are fiercely territorial, they also have the contradictory habit of occasionally nesting in the same tree as their crow-sized cousin, the pileated woodpecker.  I’ve stumbled across a couple of these duel nesting sites for myself.  My most recent discovery oc-

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