Red Headed Woodpecker Christmas Bird Count Update

Numbers normally rise and fall for many bird species during the annual Christmas Bird Counts, but the increased sightings of one bird in particular is nothing short of “amazing,’’ says Robert Shipman.

The spotting of Red-headed Woodpeckers is off the charts, says Shipman who oversees the Manassas-Bull Run count for the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. At the 34th annual count conducted on Dec. 20, he compiled 50 sightings of Red-headed Woodpeckers. The previous high was 11 in 1984. Last year, Shipman’s teams spotted only one.

“It’s this year’s irruption,’’ he says. “They’ve just exploded. To ascend the way they have is a real story. It is unparalleled.”

Healthy acorn crops might be keeping them well fed, he adds. “We can’t really say why they’re increasing here, but a counter did see one eating small acorns .”

The head, throat and upper breast of the Red-headed Woodpecker are dark read. It is the only woodpecker in the East with a completely red head. While similar to the Red-headed Woodpecker, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has a bright red crown, but a pale brown face and neck.

The counters saw all seven woodpeckers (the others are: the Pileated Woodpecker, Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker).

Counts of the “Northern Flicker were down a few compared to last year,’’ says Shipman, but counts were at all-time highs for six of the woodpeckers.

Shipman said 129 people counted just over 20,000 birds among 80 species. While the bird numbers and species were down slightly from last year, he said they are within past 15 year averages.