Woodpecker question for Colibri

Why do so many woodpecker species have a bright red splotch on top of their heads?

While I’m at it, do you believe the ivory billed woodpecker has been spotted again? How many do they think there might be?

That’s one of those imponderables. I am not aware of a specific factor in woodpecker biology that would promote this. Presumably such red coloration formed a species-recognition character in an ancestral woodpecker species, and has been maintained in many of the descendent lineages.

While there is still some debate on this in the ornithological community, in my opinion the sightings by experienced and reliable observers have been of sufficient quality to confirm its existence, even barring the video and recording evidence (which most reviewers have found persuasive).

I haven’t had a chance to review a summary article that was recently published in North American Birds detailing the sightings, so I am not sure if they are over a sufficient area or of sufficient reliabilty to make the existence of more than one probable. Given the level of controversy, no one seems willing to claim more than one at this point, at least in the scientific journals. It would be tough to speculate without more data. However, some years ago there was another sighting in Louisiana that I also consider to be likely. My personal SWAG (based on not much), would be “fewer than 20.”

When you get called out personally to answer a woodpecker question, you are officially a badass (at least on the SDMB).

Colibri is definitely the bird badass on SDMB. He is also very scrupulous about how he answers questions on other subjects in GQ, IMHO.

This topic brings to mind the Blue Headed Pionus Parrot, Pionus menstruus. Its species name is derived from the splash of red feathers around its vent.

I’m not a birder, but I’m somewhat familiar with the area the sightings occurred, and I can vouch for the fact that it’s incredibly dense, intermittently marshy or flooded terrain, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they found Bigfoot there. I can also vouch for the fact that most of the folks who have been in there over the past few decades probably would’ve thought they saw a Pileated if they had seen an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, so that, coupled with a recent “expert” sighting, makes me lean towards “YES”. I would feel much more confident if there was another “expert” sighting, just for confirmation. I agree that video need not be the standard of verification.

This is just odd wondering, but since a woodpecker’s capacity of a mighty strong head in order to go about it’s woodpecking, and prowess at gathering food, is important to the species; perhaps it’s an emblem of “Hey, look at this Peckerhead!!! Yeah, Baby, I got it going on Up here! Bang Bang bang-a-Lang!Come on into the Red, for some head-pounding action…Hangin’ to the bark, trying to blend in, but, Honey, my head just gotta have that some kinda exclaimation point!” OK, I’ll stop now/

Nature is sometimes such the shout-out.

While we’re on the subject, I might as well link to my Staff Report: How can woodpeckers stand all that woodpecking?

**ellelle’s ** suggestion may not be that far off the mark, since male woodpeckers generally have more red on the head than females do.

This is what kind of bugs me about the Sibley Guide and the National Audubon Field Guide to Birds. The reason people have these books is to identify birds that they see. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is not listed or shown in these books. So if some amateur happened to see one and look it up, they’d of course assume Pileated and that possibility would be lost.

One of the most obvious differences is more white on the wing of the Ivory Bill. The most recent questioning of the latest video I saw was by an ornithologist who said the tell tale (Ivory Billed Woodpecker ID) white shown on the wing was from the wing of a Pileated bending over in flight and looking whiter.

An interesting book about the hunt for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is called The Grail Bird by Tim Gallagher. Coincidentally, while writing the book he became part of the team that re-discovered it… Very entertaining book about the zany “ornithologist community.”

My trusty old Peterson field guide has the ivory bill in it.

So I just read Koeppel’s *To See Every Bird on Earth, *where he states (on p. 202 in the paperback edition) that the evidence claimed for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (the sound of its rapping) was dismissed by Whitney as gunfire. What’s the state of the evidence now? I’m assuming that Koeppel (2005) is out of date.

My understanding is that a number of characteristic double-rap taps have been recorded, as well as what seem to be the species’ peent calls. Now, it is possible for other things to produce double raps, and other species have calls that can resemble the peent. But the suggestion that all of the double raps have been gunfire would be absurd.

The fact of the matter is, and the reason that there is still some remaining controversy, is that no one item of physical evidence (video, recordings, etc) is absolutely incontrovertible - there could be grounds for explaining it away as something else. And for a scientist, mere eyewitness observations, no matter how experienced the observer nor how well the bird was seen, are not the same as physical evidence.

While it is possibly true that there is no completely incontrovertible physical evidence (although many ornithologists do regard the video and the recordings to qualify), in my personal opinion the evidence does qualify on the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Thanks, Colibri. Very interesting stuff.

Here’s the update section from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, with more information: