Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hairy Woodpecker with yellow patches

The Hairy Woodpecker is one of the most familiar backyard and woodland bird species in Connecticut. It is seen year-round and while not as common as the abundant Downy Woodpecker, it can be found everywhere in our state on a consistent basis. I have them in my yard constantly and seeing one is not a remarkable happenstance (but this is not to take anything away from them!) so I will only occasionally pick up my binoculars to examine an individual. In this case I was watching out my window late in the afternoon last week when I saw one that made me think something was wrong with my eyes. This was not a trick of the light, and the below record shots I hastily snapped off have not been modified in any way except for sizing.

I was not ready with my camera and by the time I was the bird was finished with its suet and hopping up and down distant branches. There was little light left in the day, but you can clearly see what should be normally deep red patches on this male are in fact a bright yellow. There is no disputing that, and it is not simply a question of angle, shadows, or the fading sun. I had absolutely no clue what to make of this at the time. After some Googling, emailing, and researching, I could not come up with any other bird that looked as this one did.

Yes, juvenile Hairy Woodpeckers do have a sometimes yellow or orange crown patch, but I did not read anything about the traditional and classic red patches on the back of the head being entirely a different color. This is also the middle of winter when even this top of the head areas of faint yellow should be long gone. I have had a neighborhood Hairy Woodpecker stained mostly yellow all over its body from some sort of environmental source a few years ago, but this was clearly a bunch of bright yellow feathers growing in place of the red ones, and not a mark that could be wiped away. Fortunately, the next weekend day I was able to spot it in the full sunlight and take some more photos.

At this point I have to think it is something like a genetic anomaly. Red and yellow are not that far off on the color spectrum. What do you think? Have you seen or heard of this before? I would love to have any input on this unique individual.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

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