About a month ago, I was singing the praises of some ravishing redheads I ran into on Long Island. Those fine specimens showed rich auburn, the color one usually means when describing heads of red. Well, I just met a redhead flashing a shade of crimson found only in a bottle or, better yet, on a bird.
A Red-headed Woodpecker has bravely weathered winter in the reckless wilderness of New York’s Upper West Side. With every week that passed, reports described how the young male’s plumage was coming in, attaining a deeper and more complete scarlet aspect. While I’ve been too busy chasing other rarities around, I finally reached the point where disinterest in this particular piciform was inexplicable. After all, I’d never seen a Red-headed Woodpecker before. While Melanerpes erythrocephalus may be found throughout most of the eastern United States, it is fairly uncommon, if not downright rare, in the New York area. The closest I’ve ever gotten to spotting one of these birds has been the New Jersey license plate (false advertising, if you ask me!) Yet here was one hanging around less than 10 miles from my home. A Friday lunchtime excursion was planned to rectify this glaring omission.
I arrived at 92nd St and Riverside Drive in no time at all and began a surprisingly short vigil. After no more than a minute, a very kind woman came over to ask me if I’d seen it yet. She explained that I was fortuitously standing right in front of the woodpecker’s preferred perch, adding that she’d seen the bird yesterday. There we chatted about the likelihood of this twitch turning out well when, speak of the devil, a diabolically handsome woodpecker with a devil-red head flew to the tree right before us. The Riverside Drive Red-headed Woodpecker had arrived!
The Red-headed Woodpecker is a boldly colored bird, painted broadly in the black, white, and red borne by most woodpeckers. The adult’s simple scheme adopts searing scarlet from the neck up, pure snow on its underbelly, underwing, and rump, and deep black everywhere else. This bird’s dome seemed on the vinaceous side, but still brilliant in its vivid coloration. He offered me just about every look a bird watcher could want, flitting from tree to tree, moving from light to shadow, and even going after an upstart Red-bellied Woodpecker. Every avian should be as accommodating! New York Metro birders interested in quality looks at a quality bird should run, not walk to Riverside Park. I observed the woodpecker expeditiously excavating a hole as if he was going to stay a while, but the local European Starlings may have other plans…
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