The way I see it, if you are going to go to the trouble of giving a bird species a name, the name should highlight a distinguishing feature of the species, differentiate it from other species, and–at the very least–accurately describe the species. Apparently these considerations do not apply when it comes to woodpecker monikers.
Bird Beef: Woodpecker names are not helpful for identification.
(I will concede that the yellow-bellied sapsucker, pileated woodpecker, and the redheaded woodpecker have reasonable names).
- There is the hairy woodpecker, which has no hair.
- And the downy woodpecker, which looks almost identical to the hairy.
- Then there is the red-bellied woodpecker, whose “red belly” looks more like an orange crotch and is overshadowed by its bright red head
- The actual redheaded woodpecker also has a red head is hardly the only woodpecker with red on its head (hello, downy, hairy, pileated, red-bellied, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers!)
- The northern flicker doesn’t have fingers with which to flick, even if it wanted to.
The red-bellied woodpecker’s name seems especially unhelpful. True, it does have a splash of color on underside, but it’s not red, and it’s not located on the belly. Take a look at this photo, taken at my in-laws’ cabin in northern Michigan. Is it just me, or is it more of a rust color than red? And is it located on the crotch rather than the belly?
Since “rust crotch” is not an appropriate name for an otherwise child-friendly bird (unless somebody has footage of a woodpecker attacking a toddler–I’d be very interested in seeing that), let’s look for a different distinguishing feature to lend a name. How about the zebra pattern on the back? That’s pretty unique.
Proposed new name: zebra-backed woodpecker.
I want to hear a peep out of you!
- What bird names confuse, amuse, or frustrate you?
- What bird name changes would you propose?
- Do you have footage of a woodpecker attacking a child?