Today, while spending another stay-at-home day during the era of Covid-19, you passed some time in front of your den’s picture window watching a mated pair of redheaded woodpeckers. They were hammering out a North Shore honeymoon home high in a tree that’s got deep roots in the neighborhood. Good. Nature websites report that such redheaded woodpeckers are becoming rare. But what’s really rare is this: the two birds, one male, the other female, look exactly alike.
In the bird world, sex is usually identified by differences in color. For instance: a male scarlet tanager is red, while his mate is yellowgreen. Even your backyard robins have shades of difference based on gender. But, with redheaded woodpeckers there’s no way to tell! According to experts, even experts can’t. Males and females are the same size and build, with identical coloration.
How do the birds know who’s what? This has even stumped our greatest know-it-all, the internet. That’s okay. The internet can be stumped, and so can we. The redheaded woodpeckers seen through your window are the ones who need to know, and they do.
This column was adapted by Mike Lubow from his book: Wild Notes: Observations over time about birds and other fleeting things. Available on amazon.com.