My Turrialba Woodpeckers

Female Yellow-bellied sapsucker in Florida

I write today’s post in the evening as if from inside a disco, because there is a wedding at the village community hall just opposite our house.  The village is very often a quiet place but this not even this evening’s heavy rain can drown out the celebrations for Fabio’s wife’s female cousin’s marriage.

Earlier today, the onset of a light rain brought a surprise visitor to the banana feeder in the form of a beautiful male Hoffmann’s woodpecker with its yellow nape and red crown.  It stayed for several minutes and came back at least once for more banana.

That adds one more to the species that I have seen at the bananas, although I am sure I’ve missed several others.  Perhaps the Golden-olive woodpecker that I spotted as it made a brief stay in the guayabo was also waiting to dine on bananas.

When I first came to San Antonio, I saw several Hoffmann’s woodpeckers and assumed that this was the common species here.  Almost two years later, I have had to change opinions.

I have seen four different species of woodpecker here at the house, plus Lineated woodpecker down near La Suiza, and Hairy woodpecker up on the Turrialba Volcano road and at the mountain community of  Cariblanco.  Well, it says Cariblanco on the road signs, but locals tell me that it’s a mis-spelling for Coliblanco.  I had fondly assumed that either White-faced monkeys or a nineteenth century general had originally given their name to the location, but it seems not.  It’s a cold location for monkeys up there, and for generals too.  Not just brass monkey weather, then.

The Lineated woodpecker can’t be counted among My Turrialba Woodpeckers because I have seen it only much lower down on the other side of town, out past the CATIE towards La SuizaStiles and Skutch maintain, however, that it occurs locally as high as 110o m on the Caribbean side, so I live in hope.   The Hairy woodpecker seems common enough not too much higher up the mountain, and it might just drop in here some day.  It seems worth mentioning that the Hairy woodpeckers I have seen in Costa Rica seem more like the size of the North American Downy woodpecker.

Golden-olive woodpecker

And now for the four species I’ve noted here in San Antonio.  First mention must go to the Golden-olive woodpecker, which offers an understated beauty with its barred front and olive back.  It’s the only Costa Rican woodpecker whose colouration brings to mind the Green woodpecker of my home town in Yorkshire, England.  The Golden-olive takes the prize for most numerous woodpecker here in San Antonio, but even then I see it only very sporadically.

Next up is the Hoffmann’s, which purportedly is at the eastern extreme of its Costa Rican range here near Turrialba.  Today’s bird was the first in a long long while.

The Black-cheeked woodpecker appeared twice in December 2008; the visits were about a week apart and each time the favoured tree was what I’m told is Fruta de paloma, a tall tree on my top fence-line that is noteworthy for having attracted, in January 2009 but in numbers and with daily regularity, Long-tailed silky flycatchers and Mountain elaenias.  This tree is fruiting right now, so I’m hopeful that something may turn up in the coming days and weeks.  A single male Black-cheeked came first in the first week of December, and about a week later I noted a pair.

Male Black-cheeked woodpecker

The Yellow-bellied sapsucker, the only Costa Rican migratory woodpecker, according to Stiles & Skutch, made my day on November 30th, 2008.  There were  two birds, actually, (at least two, say my field notes,) one an immature (possibly two), and the other with a red nape.  I stress the red nape because I didn’t see this bird’s crown colour, which presumably would also have been red, making this (according to Sibley) an adult male.  Sibley says that the Yellow-bellied male can ‘occasionally’ have a red nape.  Stiles & Skutch say that adult males are rarely seen in Costa Rica and make no mention of red napes on what is anyway, by all accounts, a very uncommon migrant and winter resident.

Female Yellow-bellied sapsucker in Florida

No Costa Rican field guides mention the North American Red-naped sapsucker as a possibility, but Howell & Webb’s Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America mentions vagrants as far south as Honduras.  I find all of this stuff just fascinating and hope to get visits from sapsuckers again this December or January.

2 thoughts on “My Turrialba Woodpeckers

  1. Hey, Paul –
    It’s interesting that you have Y. B. Sapsuckers in the winter months. We at 2000 ft in the Appalachian mountains have them also this time of year. Sibley’s Eastern North America guide shows them wintering in the southeast US (that’s us) and down into Mexico and beyond (that’s you). South of Mexico, they are considered uncommon, according to several sources. Cornell says that “females tend to migrate further than males”. I don’t see anything in Sibley’s guide about as red nape but Red-naped Sapsuckers only get as far as central Mexico (Cornell).
    Anyway, fun to read your post!



    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s a shame you’ll miss our area on your next trip, but I’m sure you’ll be back again!

      The note by Sibley is next to the adult male Yellow-bellied on page 311. What is the Cornell source you’re using? Is that from Cornell University?



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