Birds of Reston: Yellow-shafted northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) at bird feeder in Reston Virginia

The northern flicker doesn’t have “woodpecker” in its name, but it is one. And what a distinctive one! Although the black-and-white stripes on its tail are reminiscent of other woodpeckers’ black-and-white checks, it’s polka-dotted breast is what makes it stand out among birds. Quite fashion-forward.

Birds of Reston, Virginia: Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) and friends

yellow-bellied sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius on tree trunk in reston virginia

It was well below freezing today. I went outside with every bit of skin covered except for the area right around my eyes, since seeing is useful. But it was still a good day for birding. I saw three new species for me—a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a Carolina wren, and a northern mockingbird—and also a pileated woodpecker, which I’ve seen before but never at home.

Bird of the Day: Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Female downy woodpecker on tree trunk

Downy woodpeckers are the smallest woodpecker I see on a regular basis, just about the size of a sparrow. When it’s cloudy and gray like today, it can be a challenge to identify them. It fact, I first mistook the one I saw this afternoon for a sparrow or other little brown job, because it was sitting on a bare branch and I couldn’t make out its distinctive black-and-white pattern against the glare of the cloudy sky.

Bird of the day: Hairy woodpecker

We’ve been seeing a lot of woodpeckers now that the leaves have fallen. A few days ago I counted close to a dozen downy woodpeckers on one of the trees near my house, and red-breasted woodpeckers have been coming around to peck at the locust tree outside my kitchen window. I’m not sure why hairy woodpeckers are called “hairy.” I guess it’s because the feathers on their bellies are fine and hair-like, but so are the feathers on the bellies of many other woodpeckers.