Sunday, 21 December 2014

Picid in Focus: Hispaniolan Woodpecker

Hispaniolan Woodpecker Melanerpes striatus, Dominican Republic, December 2014. Endemic to the island of Hispaniola (Dom Rep & Haiti) in the Greater Antilles, it is widespread and common in the former, found in most wooded habitats, but less so in Haiti where deforestation has been rife. This is a female, note the black mid and fore crown with red only at the rear: males have a complete red crown.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

An Island Endemic: Guadeloupe Woodpecker

Guadeloupe Woodpecker Melanerpes herminieri is the only picid on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Males and females are almost identical in appearance and in this shot and pose it is hard to say which sex the bird is, as the bill is hidden (males have longer bills). In addition, it is the only Melanerpes species in the Caribbean which does not exhibit sexual dimorphism in plumage. Photo taken by on Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, Lesser Antilles, November 2014. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Picid in Focus: Hairy Woodpecker

Male Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus. Photo taken near Portal, Arizona, USA, in July 2014, by Gerard Gorman.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Endemic Woodpeckers

An endemic species is one that is restricted in range to a particular habitat or region. In birding parlance the term often refers to a species being found only in one country. There are numerous endemic woodpeckers around the globe, with isolated islands often having endemic species. Here is a male Black-necked Woodpecker Colaptes atricollis race peruvianus, which is endemic to parts of Andean Peru. Taken in the Maranon Valley, Peru, November 2012, Gerard Gorman.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Picid in Focus: Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker Picoides arizonae. This is a male, females lack the red hind-crown patch. Note that despite the name, this species also occurs in northern Mexico. Photo taken near Portal, Arizona, USA in July 2014, by Gerard Gorman.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Woodpecker Vocalisations

Woodpeckers tend to make simple calls, much simpler in structure than those of, for example, most passerines. Calls are highly functional and are made year round, by both sexes. But the extent to which the different species call varies greatly, some are rather taciturn, others (especially gregarious social species) are often noisy. In this photo a Cardinal Woodpecker Dendropicos fuscescens in Tanzania is in full voice (Gerard Gorman).

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Picid in Focus: Elliot's Woodpecker

Here is an often silent, easily over-looked and seldom photographed woodpecker from Africa: Elliot's Woodpecker Dendropicos elliotii male. Photographed in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda, by Gerard Gorman.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Picid in Focus: Andean Flicker

Andean Flicker Colaptes rupicola. A male of the puna race, which has red on the hindneck and in the malar stripe. This is one of the world's most terrestrial picids. Photo, central Peru, November 2012, Gerard Gorman.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Picid in Focus: Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted Sapsucker Sphyrapicus ruber. The sexes are very similar in plumage. Photo taken near Bend, Oregon, USA, in July 2014 by Gerard Gorman.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

BOOK REVIEW - HBW & BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, Vol 1

HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Non-passerines. Del Hoyo, J. & Collar, N.J. With David A. Christie, Andrew Elliot & Lincoln D. C. Fishpool.

Published by LynxEdicions, Barcelona, Spain, August 2014. Publisher's price 145 Euros. Hardback, 904 pages. ISBN978-84-96553-94-1

With 357 colour plates, 8290 bird illustrations, range maps for all species and a bibliography of over 2000 references, this new bird checklist is an impressive work. It differs from previous lists in several ways, in particular in its inclusion of colour plates and distribution maps, and is thus the most colourful bird checklist ever produced. Most of the artwork is taken from the HBW series, with new paintings added where needed and some improved. Although first and foremost a checklist, this work might be viewed by some readers as simply an updated and concise edition of the non-passerine volumes of HBW, but the texts are more detailed than in a typical checklist, yet much more concise than in HBW, and the taxonomy is very different.
The taxonomic basis of this checklist is the so-called Biological Species Concept (BSC), which uses a flexible system of scoring based on morphological, vocal, ecological and geographical relationships, now known as the 'Tobias criteria', to indicate species. For more on this approach, see J.A. Tobias, N. Seddon, C.N. Spottiswoode, J.D. Pilgrim, L.D.C. Fishpool & N.J. Collar (2010). Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis. 152. Here, this method has resulted in much re-shuffling (lumping and splitting) by the authors of those taxons described in Lynx's own HBW series. There are 4372 extant species described in this volume of non-passerines, based on 21 'lumps', and 462 'splits', when compared with the taxonomy used in HBW, and compared to previous lists the species level has risen by around 10%. The taxonomic issues involved are outlined in a long and careful introduction where it might come as a surprise to some to find that often quoted, but not always clearly understood, DNA based molecular-genetic findings are not first and foremost, although they were taken into account. A key issue raised by this work's taxonomic system is conservation. For example, it becomes clear that regions such as the Philippines, the island of Java and Para State in Amazonian Brazil, are hotspots of species diversity, with many taxons under great pressure and threat, and hence these places, and the fauna found there, should be given prompt conservation priority.
This volume covers the non-passerines and begins with the Ostriches and ends with the Parrots. As author of the recently published Woodpeckers of the World (Helm 2014), I immediately found myself examining pages 646 to 688 of this list, where the Picidae (woodpeckers) are covered in 254 'species'. This figure compares to 239 in Woodpeckers of the World, however this does not simply amount to 15 more 'species' as several which were lumped in my book have been split here (e.g. Dendrocopos leucotos owstoni to Amani Woodpecker Dendrocopos owstoni and Colaptes campestris campestroides to Pampas Flicker Colaptes campestroides), and others lumped (e.g. American & Eurasian Three-toed Woodpeckers and Golden-fronted & Velasquez's Woodpeckers). If the total number of 'species' in the two works are combined, a grand total of 261 results (which makes my already daunting task of finding all of the world's picids even more difficult!).
This work is a triumph of research, editing and writing and I am reluctant to find fault, however it is usual to do just that in a review, so here is my main gripe! In several instances, I found the use of English names uncomfortable, if not controversial. It seems that a standardisation of English vernacular bird names is still not on the horizon and this work does not really help in that regard. Clearly, when a new species is described, or results from a split, a new name needs to be found and here the authors generally approach this sensibly, although there is a lack of consistency. For example, the established name for Picus vaillantii is Levaillant's Woodpecker, but this is changed to Mahgreb Green Woodpecker (presumably to remove Mr Levaillant's name), but that of Kaempfer's Woodpecker, for example, is not. In addition, in the case of Dendropicos elliotii, the existing name Elliot's Woodpecker is not only retained, but Johnston's Woodpecker adopted for the split of its (former) johnstonii race to full species. Surely the authors had enough to do in finding and agreeing upon new names for new species without having to re-name existing ones?
Obviously in a vast undertaking of this kind, some oversights are inevitable, and for future editions/up-dates, it might be noted that the distribution of Arrowhead Piculet Picumnus minutissimus is said to be 'from Guyana E to French Guiana' (and the range map reflects this), however there are actually no confirmed records of this taxon from outside Surinam.
To conclude, do you need this huge and not inexpensive checklist ? Well, even if you already have the HBW series, even if you are uncomfortable with the taxonomic system used or the creation of some English names, the answer simply has to be YES. This list is now a benchmark, a reference that is hard to ignored and which may (when Volume 2, the Passerines, is released in 2016) become the definitive checklist for birds. All in all, the authors, editors, designers and the publisher are to be congratulated.
Gerard Gorman. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Woodpecker Taxonomy

Taxonomy... yes, the debates go on. There are several lists of birds out there, and no sign that things will be agreed upon and coordinated in the near future. Regarding woodpeckers, here in this photo is one taxon that moves between being a 'species' or a 'sub-species' depending upon which 'authority' is followed. I have this down as an American Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides dorsalis, although it was, and still is by some, regarded as a race of Picoides tridactylus. Photo taken in Oregon, USA, July 2014, Gerard Gorman.   

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Picid in Focus: Red-throated Wryneck

A great image of Red-throated Wryneck Jynx ruficollis from Ethiopia by Carlos Gonzalez Bocos.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Picid in Focus: Williamson's Sapsucker female

Continuing the subject of sexually dimorphism, here is an adult female Williamson's Sapsucker Sphyrapicus thyroideus, very different in plumage from the colourful male. Photo taken near Bend, Oregon, USA, in July 2014 by Gerard Gorman.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Picid in Focus: Lewis's Woodpecker nestling

This young Lewis's Woodpecker Melanerpes lewis is almost ready to leave the nesting cavity. Bend, Oregon, July 2014, Gerard Gorman.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Sexual Dimorphism

Most woodpeckers are sexually dimorphic in appearance. That is, males and females have different plumage. However such differences are often slight, usually involving more colour on the head or face of the male. In a few cases, such as Williamson's Sapsucker Sphyrapicus thyroideus, sexual dimorphism is extreme, with the sexes appearing very different - males colourful, females plain. Photo of an adult male Williamson's Sapsucker taken in Oregon, USA, in July 2014 by Gerard Gorman.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Habitats: post burn forests

Although forests that have burnt may seem disaster zones that are void of life, this is not the case. Bark- and wood-boring beetles thrive in the dead timber and subsequently attract woodpeckers. For example, this burn by Davis Lake in Oregon, USA, currently (July 2014) hosts Hairy and Lewis's Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker and Williamson's, Red-naped and Red-breasted Sapsuckers. The standing snags provide ideal nesting sites adjacent to the beetle food resources.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Picid in Focus: Lewis's Woodpecker

Adult Lewis's Woodpecker Melanerpes lewis, with prey. Taken near Bend, Oregon, on July 6, 2014. Gerard Gorman.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Picid in Focus: Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker

A male (note the yellow crown) Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, bringing food to its young in the cavity. Photo taken in Lower Austria (race alpinus) in spring 2014 by Thomas Hochebner

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Woodpecker book out today!

I am very pleased and proud to tell you all that my new book WOODPECKERS OF THE WORLD is officially published today by Helm/Bloomsbury. Thanks to all of you who helped in various ways. Gerard Gorman.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Picid in Focus: Fernandina's Flicker female

Female Fernandina's Flicker Colaptes fernandinae. A localised and vulnerable Cuban endemic. Photo by Gerard Gorman, Zapata Swamp, Cuba, March 2014.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Acorn Woodpecker granary.

An Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus at its 'granary'. Such food storage sites can be composed of 1000s of specially drilled holes in trees or wooden utility poles, each holding one acorn or nut - although none seem to be stored at the moment in this site. Taken in the USA by Peter Basterfield.  

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


Here are some pre-publication samples from the book WOODPECKERS OF THE WORLD from the website of the North American co-publisher: SAMPLE PAGES 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Picid in Focus: male Blood-coloured Woodpecker

A superb male Blood-coloured Woodpecker Veniliornis sanguineus. Taken in Surinam, April 2014, by Jean-Louis Rousselle. 

Friday, 25 April 2014

North America edition of woodpecker book

Just discovered that in the USA & Canada the cover and sub-title of WOODPECKERS OF THE WORLD will be different from the UK edition (as it's a co-edition). So all North American woodpecker lovers can look (and order !) here:

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Book... a sample!

Here is a sample of pages from my forthcoming book WOODPECKERS OF THE WORLD (I just got a pre-publication copy). Hope you like the look of it, it is due out in June.  

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Picid in Focus: Pale-billed Woodpecker

Pale-billed Woodpecker Campephilus guatemalensis. This large, impressive woodpecker occurs in Central America from Mexico to Panama. This male was photographed in Tikal, Guatemala, by Mike Nelson (Birding Ecotours).

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Picid in Focus: Fernandina's Flicker

Adult female Fernandina's Flicker Colaptes fernandinae. Endemic to Cuba, this endangered woodpecker may number less than 1000 individuals in total. Pinar Del Rio, Western Cuba, March 2014, Gerard Gorman.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Picid in Focus: Magellanic Woodpecker

A superb male Magellanic Woodpecker Campephilus magellanicus. Taken in Argentina by Gerhard Rotheneder.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Woodpeckers and pest control

Woodpeckers are important natural controllers of insect pests that invade trees. Here is a link to one such case concerning the exotic invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetle in the USA: Emerald Ash Border

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Picid in Focus: Hispaniolan Woodpecker

This really is a great looking woodpecker. An adult male Hispaniolan Woodpecker Melanerpes striatus. Taken in the Dominican Republic (where it is endemic) in January 2014, by Neil Bowman.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Forthcoming Woodpecker Book

Here is the cover of my forthcoming book WOODPECKERS OF THE WORLD - THE COMPLETE GUIDE. Many thanks to everyone who helped with information and photos. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Picid in Focus: Reichenow's Woodpecker

Reichenow's Woodpecker Campethera scriptoricauda. Aka Speckle-throated Woodpecker. This is an adult male: note the red malar stripe. A poorly-known and range-restricted woodpecker, it is found in open wooded habitats, often in miombo, in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. This photo taken near Mweya, Tanzania, in January 2014 by Gerard Gorman.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Picid in Focus: female Stripe-breasted Woodpecker

Adult female Stripe-breasted Woodpecker 
Dendrocopos atratus. Males have red on the crown. Photo taken at Chiang Dao, NW Thailand, November 2013, by Gerard Gorman.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Picid in Focus: Arrowhead Piculet male

Arrowhead Piculet Picumnus minutissimus is probably endemic to Surinam in NE South America - it is unclear whether it occurs in neighbouring countries. This male was photographed at Peperpot, Surinam, in January 2014, by Jean-Louis Rousselle.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Blood-coloured Woodpecker pair

A rare shot of a pair of copulating Blood-coloured Woodpeckers Veniliornis sanguineus. Peperpot, Surinam, January 2014, by Jean-Louis Rousselle.