Pairing up

At various times throughout the winter, I have seen either the male or the female Red-bellied Woodpecker at the bird feeder or on the trees near the feeder, but never together at the same time in the same place.

Seeing them together makes it easy to see how much more red the male has on his head.

Seeing them together makes it easy to see how much more red the male has on his head.  Still can’t see the “red belly” though.

I have to admit that this shot is fake — I inserted the female into the photo of the male, just to test out another, different feature of Photoshop, and I haven’t quite got the knack of cutting and pasting an object into another photo yet.

But my purpose in showing them like this is to emphasize how similar in size they are, often not the case in many species where either the male or the female is substantially larger.  Similar size and anatomy means that males would potentially compete with females for food resources in their breeding territory, unless they harvested it in different ways somehow.

If you watch closely, it does seem that the two sexes prefer to forage on different parts of the tree — the males more on the trunk and thicker branches, the females more on the higher, thinner branches.  And, even though they are similar in body weight, males have a stouter bill and a longer tongue with a broader tip and barbed end, for harvesting insects deeper in the wood.

"Did you know that my tongue is twice as long as my bill!"

“Did you know that my tongue is twice as long as my bill!”

6 thoughts on “Pairing up

  1. I’m always surprised to hear that the male has the best equipment in some birds and animals. I would think it would be more important for the female to have an easier time finding and getting at food since it is (usually) she that cares for the young.

  2. Interesting that they are made for feeding in different parts of the tree. Makes sense that they wouldn’t have evolved to compete with each other. Not a bad job at all of cutting and pasting.

  3. Woodpeckers have tongues? I guess that it makes sense, but it’s certainly not something that I knew before. You first shot was so good that I didn’t even consider that it had been “faked.” I haven’t played too much in Photoshop, but my experience is that it’s a whole lot easier to take away elements from an image than to add them. I am definitely not a purist about making adjustments to photos, though it’s usually best to acknowledge it when they are as major as this (or when shooting at a zoo vice in the wild). It’s actually really helpful to see the two Red-bellied Woodpeckers together to see the differences in appearance.

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