This is a female Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) that I snuck a picture of in my backyard. They are North Americas smallest woodpecker species. They are relatively common in their range and tend to be permanent residents. They are nearly identical to a larger species of woodpecker called the Hairy Woodpecker and takes a trained eye to discern the two (interestingly enough these two species of woodpecker are not very related to each other genetically and their visual similarity is a example of convergent evolution). Males of this species have a red dot on the back of their heads, which is why I can tell you that this is a female bird (and example of sexual dimorphism, or when the male a female of a species look different). These birds mainly feed on insects that they obtain by pecking holes in the bark of trees and fishing them out. They also will feed on seeds and berries in months when food is scarce (I find them pretty regularly at my suet feeder in the winter). They breed in tree cavities in the forest that they excavate in dead and rotting trees. If you are a birdwatcher and have a dead tree trunk in your yard it is a good Idea to keep it upright and watch things like woodpeckers, squirrels, ducks, and plants use it as a place to grow or breed (that is if it has no risk of damaging anyone or anything if it were to fall).
Woodpeckers in general have many adaptations that make them unique in the bird world and give them the ability to fill roles, or niches, that other birds cannot. For starters they have a very strong beak, which allows then to chisel out holes in wood. They also have a very thick, spongy skull that fits snuggly around the brain to prevent brain damage when they are literally banging their heads up against hard surfaces (I’ll bet NFL players are envious). Their eyes are protected from popping out by a thin membrane that grows over the front of them, holding them in place. Lastly, they have very long tongue with a barbed tip on it allowing them to protrude their tongue into cavities they drill and extract food. These are awesome adaptations that these birds have evolved and have made these birds true specialists in nature. I am truly in awe when I see or hear any woodpecker species going about their business, and This little Downy is no exception.
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