Olivaceous Piculet (Picumnus olivaceus)

The Olivaceous Piculet is the smallest bird species in the Woodpecker family. Its sound as it pecks on vines resembles that of the Telegraph, hence its common Spanish name, “Telegrafista”. Both male and female show very small white dots all over the crown, with the male also sporting bright orange feathers on the front of the head. The flanks of both sexes look faintly streaked in light brown and white, while the upperparts are dark brown. The center feathers that cover the tail’s upper side are white. Its range is restricted to two main zones, one in the northern part of Costa Rica up to San Juan river, and another in the southern region, from Quepos down to Ciudad Neily and Rio Jimenez.

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

The Hairy Woodpecker is a common inhabitant in Costa Rica’s highlands. It is the same size as the Black-cheeked Woodpecker (which only inhabits the Caribbean lowlands), and hence smaller than the Acorn Woodpecker (which does occur on the highlands). It resembles both species by having black wings, but the face patterns is very different to them, with black and white stripes and just a small reddish patch on the nape. They also lack the barring and streaking that the Black-cheeked and Acorn show on their underparts. Normally woodpeckers are seen, well… pecking at wood, but we saw this individual pecking at the ground, which seemed pretty unusual. It was also totally unconcerned with our presence; a whole group of 15 people could get to within two meters and it would still not fly away. That’s when I decided to follow it around, trying to get a close up portrait, and this was the result.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

The Acorn Woodpecker is one of Costa Rica’s largest species, only topped in length by the Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpeckers. The funny-looking pattern on its face earns it the local name “little clown”, with a conspicuous red crown, and a black and yellowish-white mask that cover the face and throat. The iris is almost white, and the bill is black. While the back and wings are entirely black, the chest has black and white streaking, and the belly is white. The female can be identified by a small black patch on the front of the crown, whereas the male’s crown is entirely red. Their inhabit the highlands, particularly Cerro de la Muerte (Buenavista) and Cordillera de Talamanca, where they are very common. Their call display is also very showy when compared with other Costa Rica woodpeckers, swinging their body from one side to the other while giving their calls away.

Hoffman’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes hoffmannii)

The Hoffman’s Woodpecker is a pretty common sight in Ciudad Colón where I lived before, not so common in Rio Frio where my parents live, but they still approach the fruit feeders from time to time. Their underparts are gray olive, while the upperparts are barred in black and white. The nape is yellowish, while the male has a red cap. Their call is high pitched and can be heard from quite far away. Like most woodpeckers, they frequently perch on branches looking upright or upside down, traversing the branch looking for insects.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani)

This is medium sized woodpecker that can be found in the Caribbean and northern part of the country. The male has red back and top of the head, with a yellow patch in the front, while the female has whitish top of the head (nape). Both have black cheeks, which give this species its name. Other notable features are its black wings with white dots, black back with white barring, yellowish flanks with black barring and red belly, which gives the bird a very contrasty look. It’s call is a piercing chirrr, chirrr, chirrr that can be heard from afar and make identification of the species easier.

Like most woodpeckers, they make holes in trees for nesting, which are then reused by other species, hence their success can indirectly impact population sizes for other species. Many times the nests that they empty are reused by similarly sized birds to construct theirs, with Emerald Toucanets as one such example, but even some owls will make use of them. It’s not uncommon to see either the male or female inside the hole, with just the head out, watching out for potential predators as they keep their eggs or chicks safe inside. Something more peculiar is seeing these birds pecking at public lampposts made out of concrete, I have not yet deciphered why would they do that. On feeders, they like to eat papaya, but they will also catch small insects for food.