Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Elvis & The Red-Headed Relative

This week the chips fly as Elvis works hanging upside under a decaying log.
To view the video of Elvis at work, Click here. 

Nearby a redheaded relative works at a similar angle...
...however with a bit less force.

While clearly related these two are at the opposite ends on the Union Bay woodpecker spectrum. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the Downy Woodpecker seldom weighs more than an ounce while the Pileated Woodpecker can weigh up to 12 times that amount. Cornell shows that the lengths of these birds do vary, however you can think of the Downy as being around 6 inches long and the PW as being roughly 3 times that length. Their wingspans have a slightly smaller ratio. The maximum width listed for the PW it is 29.5 inches while for the Downy the max is listed as 11.8 inches.

One way the two birds look similar is that they both have darker coloring on top of their heads, along their eye stripes and along their cheek (or malar) stripes. The red on the back of the head of the Downy tells us it is a male.

As mentioned in a previous post, the red on his cheek and forehead tell us that Elvis is male.

Another interesting difference in the two birds is the length of their bills as compared to their head sizes. This may seem like an odd metric however it can be particularly useful when looking at the Downy. In the case of the PW the bill is roughly the same length as the head. With the Downy the bill length is about half the head length. 

We have a third local woodpecker, the Hairy, which on first view looks a lot like a Downy. It is larger but in the field you don't always have the two side by side in order to compare. However the Hairy, unlike the Downy, has a bill that is roughly as long as its head. To see a very nice comparison, Click here.

Craig Johnson has done an amazing website all about our local woodpeckers. Follow this link if you would like to learn more.

After the video (Did you notice the chip falling onto his chest? Sorry, I just thought it was interesting.) Elvis flew to the ground to further inspect the chips he had knocked loose. During the process his head would disappear below the grass and then pop up as he checked for approaching danger.

In one case he came up with his eyes still closed. 
Note: This may not be an effective strategy for dealing with danger.
It seems obvious that PWs close their eyes to keep out the wood chips. However some folks think they also close their eyes to keep them from popping out of their head when they strike a tree or log.

Here is another shot showing Elvis with his eyes closed. It is from 2 weeks ago when he was working on the Empress tree.

There is no evidence of Elvis continuing to work on the Empress tree as described in the Danger in the Park post. For more about the Empress tree check out the Odds and Ends section below.

In closing here are a few more shots of Elvis's little redheaded relative.

Just in case you are wondering, the small white streaks in the photos are just a bit of Seattle rain. :-)

I think the buds in the photo however are another Sign of Spring.


Odds and Ends:

An interesting email from Arthur Lee Jacobson about the Empress tree.

Dear Larry,

Here is a May 7, 1998 photo I took of the tree. I used this in the second edition of my book Trees of Seattle. The flowers are edible, and sweetly aromatic. This individual tree specimen is about 80 feet tall, and dates from 1948. It is the largest in Seattle. You can use my photo if desired...


Thank you to Arthur for a view from another perspective!

By the way here is another link I found about Arthur and his garden:



  1. The Elvis photos are very informative and educational for me. Thanks.


    1. You are welcome! Thank you for letting me know. :-)