Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the May 15, 2011 Newsletter issued
from written at Mayan Beach
Garden Inn 20 kms north of Mahahual, Quintana Roo, México
ALMOST A PILEATED WOODPECKER
Above you see the large woodpecker that Friday morning showed up at the edge of the mangrove swamp, probing his pale yellow beak into a runny tree-trunk wound.
At first glance most North American birders would quickly pronounce what's in the picture a Pileated Woodpecker, which is North America's largest and most spectacular woodpecker, assuming that Ivory-bills are extinct. However, Pileateds aren't distributed as far south as Mexico, except occasionally during the winter when one might wander across the Rio Grande from southernmost Texas.
Our picture shows a Lineated Woodpecker, DRYOCOPUS LINEATUS, a member of the same genus as the Pileated, and thus very closely related. It's distributed from humid, lowland Mexico south to Peru and northern Argentina. It's smaller than the North's Pileated Woodpecker, Pileateds reaching about 17 inches long (43cm) while Lineateds average only about 13 inches (33cm).
In the field it's often hard to gauge relative size, though. An easier-to-see difference between the two species is the white bar above the Lineated's shoulder, which Pileateds don't have. When the Lineated is in museum-presentation position, the white face-streak continues down the neck, then zags back up over the wing forming a conspicuous white V across the black back. The Pileated's back is completely black. In the photograph our bird is twisting to get at his food, shifting black back feathers over part of his V. You can compare our Lineated with the Pileated at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/b/piliated.jpg.
Mexico is home to about 20 woodpecker species, of which two are very large with black-and-white bodies and red, crested heads, like the North's Pileateds. The second, less-seen Pileated-type woodpecker we have, the Pale-billed, is a little larger than the Lineated, plus its head is all red, lacking the Lineated's white stripe and black blotch.