Wild-eyed, scarlet-headed, and black and white all over, this Pale-billed Woodpecker has its eye on you. Not to be confused with a congener by a similar name, the “Lord God” Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the Pale-billed also issues out a far-carrying double-knock. That sound echoes off tree trunks and into the distance, alerting us and other woodpeckers to its presence. Gracing woodlands from Mexico south to Panama, usually we hear it before we see it, and sometimes they startle us, flying across a gap in the forest or pitching up on a large tree.
While among the largest in the family, today the world’s biggest woodpecker is the Great Slaty of India and South-east Asia. Decades ago, the New World boasted the two largest species, with the aforementioned Ivory-billed and the imposing Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico. Their stories are sad and well-known. Still, though, the Neotropics host a number of fantastic entries on the list, and coming up we have several Panama departures where the featured bird above can be seen, along with others, such as the smart Black-cheeked, the stunning Cinnamon, and the diminutive Red-rumped. A few spaces remain this March on our Panama: Best of Birding and the Chiriqui Highlands extension trips.
Woodpeckers are special. Whether we’re talking about Woody, the Lord God bird, the retina-burning Crimson-mantled, the Kaempfer’s of Brazil, or Alabama’s state bird the Yellowhammer, they are always a welcome sight. Sure, occasionally a Northern Flicker may take to banging away at the side of your house, but generally speaking, there are few families of birds more popular. Alert, flashy, vocal, and industrious, they are easy to admire. And they can be found nearly the world over, save the polar regions, Madagascar and east of Wallace’s Line.
December’s Image of the Month, the Pale-billed Woodpecker, rests among the genus Campephilus which translates to, “lover of grubs”. Now certainly, we wish you better fare than this for your holiday season. But it is indeed our hope that the coming weeks find you at a table, surrounded with good grub. Better still, that they will find you among friends, feathered or otherwise.
Godspeed to all our Rockjumper friends and family. We look forward to the new year ahead, and hope you’ll spend it happy of mind, sound of health, and with copious time outside in the elements.