A Cheeky Cheeky Bird -Golden Cheeked Woodpecker

2010 Howard Platt June 2010 Nature

By Howard Platt  from the June 2010 Edition

It is the bird’s call that gets me. ”Cheeky, cheeky” it yells at me as I wander through wooded areas. Often I cannot see where the bird, just hear its taunting. Then it swoops by me in its undulating flight and lands on the trunk of a tree.

They have big claws for hanging on to tree trunks, and stiffened tail feathers they use almost as a third leg or as a prop to keep upright. When they are not teasing me they are hammering away at a tree in search of insects or to excavate a nest.

If the bird sees me watching, it rapidly scrambles around to the far side of the trunk where I cannot see it, but peeps out from time to time to check where I am. A beady brown eye surrounded by a black eye patch and set off by the red on top of the head and the golden hue on the cheeks and back of the neck.

These are golden-cheeked woodpeckers, the most common woodpecker seen on the west coast of Mexico. The black and white stripes on the back and tail contrast with the greyish yellow belly. Both male and females have the golden cheeks, but only the male flaunts the red cap. They are much smaller than the lineated woodpeckers and the pale-billed woodpeckers that may sometimes be seen around here, and they seem to choose the softer coconut palms trunks for their excavations.

Some days they seem to be everywhere, in the woods, in trees in town, or even on the telephone pole across the street. They have become used to having people around, so it is not unusual for a pair to take up residence at the bottom of your garden. Or hunt for bugs in your banana plant. Yet while they come close, they also take care to stay out of reach and prefer to hang onto the opposite side of the tree from where ever you view them. Consummate teases, they offer a glimpse of themselves then quickly tuck themselves out of sight.

So, whether it is the call, the behaviour or the cheeks these are definitely “cheeky” birds.


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