Black-cheeked Woodpecker in the Tropical Rainforest of Ecuador
Woodpeckers are fascinating and beautiful birds that can be observed throughout the world. When not displaying their brilliant colors, their loud and rapid drumming on tree trunks remind all those nearby of their presence. These tiny carpenters of the woodlands are a delight to behold and a pleasure to encounter on a quiet summer's walk.
The Black-cheeked Woodpecker of Ecuador is endemic to Central and South America and is easily observed throughout its range. Its Latin name, Melanerpes Pucherani, commemorates the French zoologist Jacques Pucheran.
Although Woodpeckers and Piculets can be found worldwide in distribution, there are many species that are endemic to the Americas and some are found only in the tropics. The Black-cheeked Woodpecker ranges from southern Mexico to southwestern Ecuador. Inhabiting areas mainly below 800 m (2,600 ft.) it can sometimes be observed at higher elevations of 1,300 to 1,500 m (4,300 to 5,000 ft.)
Within Ecuador the Black-cheeked Woodpecker can be observed on the western slopes of the Andes Mountains from the Colombian border south to Guayas and El Oro. Although primarily in the lowlands, it can be detected locally above Mindo in cleared areas.
The Black-cheeked Woodpecker is a vividly colored bird, which makes it easily discernable within the dimly lit confines of the tropical rainforest. It has a length of 18 – 19 cm (7 – 7 ½ in.) and weighs approximately 63 g (2.22 oz.). The male is mainly black above with narrow white bars across its back. It has a yellow frontlet, red crown and a large white spot behind the eye rendering the appearance of a mask. The flight feathers contain white spots and its rump is white as well. Starting below the beak it has a whitish throat blending to an olive grayish breast and belly. The stomach area is barred with black and there is a red patch on the midsection.
The female is similarly colored although the midcrown is black rather than red as in the male. (Compare the opening photo of the female with the image of the male at right.) There are no other species with this distinctive coloration making it easy to identify in the field.
Habits and Habitats
The Black-cheeked Woodpecker is fairly common to the rainforest on the western slopes of the Andes Mountains. Preferring the subcanopy and borders of the forest and secondary woodland, they are also conspicuous in clearings with scattered tall trees. (They have a partiality to dead snags.) They will frequently visit gardens and tanager feeders in the more humid lowlands.
Foraging high in trees from 6 – 30 m (20 – 100 ft) they will glean the trunks for insects and other small invertebrates and often sally upwards after flying prey. However, they also dine on fruit and large numbers of these woodpeckers can devastate an orchard, angering the farmers and leaving them open to countermeasures.
Their nests are unlined holes that are built high in dead trees. The clutch consists of two to four glossy white eggs that are incubated by both sexes.
Locating the Black-cheeked Woodpecker in Ecuador
Although the Black-cheeked Woodpecker can be found throughout the lowlands of the Ecuadorian northwest, some of the reserves where it can be seen regularly are the following: Bellavista Forest Reserve, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Manglares-Churute, Pedro Vicente Maldonado, Rio Canande Reserve, Rio Palenque Reserve, Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary, and Tinalandia. This beautiful creature is also a regular visitor to the tanager feeders at Mirador Rio Blanco in San Miquel de los Bancos.
The Black-cheeked Woodpecker is a beautifully colored inhabitant of the Ecuadorian tropical rainforest. It is quite easily spotted in the western lowlands and with patience can be captured with a camera without difficulty. Following the constant drumming through the woodland will reward the cautious observer with a display of beauty and curious activity.
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