28 Aug 2015

The Woodpecker

By: Jorge Ventocilla

The Woodpecker

Yes, there are woodpeckers in Panama City! This may come as a surprise to some people. However, there is a large number of them in our urban areas, even in highly populated areas like Vía España or Calle 50. The red-crowned woodpecker (Melanerpes rubricapillus) is the species most commonly found here, and in many other towns in the Central Provinces of Panama.  

In woodlands close to Parque Natural Metropolitano or Cerro Ancón, two other species can be found. Both of these species are larger than the red-crowned woodpecker and have a red feather crown (very similar in appearance to the popular cartoon character Woody Woodpecker).

Its strong, big bill allows the woodpecker to drill on trees, aiding in the search for insects. Some people think that this drilling is harmful to the trees; quite to the contrary, it is beneficial for the trees because these birds feed on insects which are actually considered plagues.  

Particularly during the dry season, woodpeckers feed on fruit. They visit feeding stations made especially for these and other birds.  

The characteristic calling of the red-crowned woodpecker is a loud one. It is easy to differentiate from other callings: two rattling sounds, a brief pause, and then a third rattle. However, in the countryside, this calling may sound a little bit different.

Speaking of the countryside, Francisco Delgado, a renowned ornithologist from Chitré, told me that the red-crowned woodpecker is called “cherele” in the southern parts of the Azuero region. North of Penonomé, close to Chiguirí, it is called “carrasco”. Francisco reports that he has seen these birds nesting on electric poles (made of pinewood). He says that he has also seen them fighting small owls over territory, since both species share nesting habits.  

“Don’t forget to mention…” Francisco added, “…that ‘tree creepers’ – also called ‘brown woodpeckers’ (which are actually from a different family) –, climb to treetops in a rather vertical movement; woodpeckers climb on a spiral.  When they reach the top, they fly down, or to a different branch or trunk, just before spiraling up again.” Francisco wanted to share this information, which comes as a result of years of bird watching experience. 

Dry trees (or palm trees) are ideal for nesting: this is reason enough for not getting rid of every dying tree that may be on our backyards. I remember we had a dead Astromelia tree years ago and didn’t get rid of it. For four year this tree was very useful for numerous birds. They would feed on insects found on the tree or use it for nesting. Several generations of red-crowned woodpeckers were born from nests conveniently housed on its dry trunk.

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Illustration: Ilustración: Carpintero coronirojo, Dana Gardner