Flight Patterns and Woodpeckers

by Dave Hanks

Have you ever seriously watched birds fly? Undoubtedly, you’ve watched the high fliers like geese, as they wing overhead. But have you ever paid attention to how smaller birds fly from tree to tree, or tree to bush, bush to ground? If you have, you realize that each type has a distinctive flight pattern.

Jays do what we expect, which is to fly straight to their next destination. Goldfinch will dip down deeply, ride up sharply, and then repeat the process. Ruby-Crowned Kinglets do a lot of zigzagging to finally get to where they stop. But it’s the woodpeckers that are the most recognizable in flight.

Undulating is the phrase that best describes their movement. A few wing beats that lifts them up, followed by a descending glide, and then a few more wing beats. I can always identify our large Red-Shafted Flicker, as I see his white rump undulating up and down across an open space.

The RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER is a comparable eastern cousin to our flicker. It may be seen doing an erratic flight pattern between trees, changing course sharply as it goes. It is believed that this is a method of teaching the young to be able to meet adverse conditions. It is a cavity nester that doesn’t always make its own cavity – taking over the nest holes of other birds. They will also wedge nuts into large cracks in tree crevices or fence posts to store for later use.

This most common woodpecker of the Southeast has a faint red wash over its belly – but its most noticeable trait is the bold, red stripe on the crown and neck of the male – the female has the red on the nape of her neck only. This bird can stick its tongue out 2 inches past the end of its beak. The tip is barbed and sticky. This woodpecker will readily come to feeders.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker At our feed trough in the Indiana woods

At our feed trough in the Indiana woods