brown=juv Nuttalls WDPKR

John Fulton

Check Pyle's Bird Banding manual on passerine ID for brown feathers in woodpeckers. The brown color is a common phenomenon according to Peter Pyle. Juvenile woodpecker feathers, including Nuttalls' fade to brown quickly. The molt of woodpeckers is not complete each year; thus the number and position of retained brown juvenal feathers is used to determine age. My guess is that the bird was a female in second (or third?) year plumage. As Gary N. suggested, genetic mutation could also account for the brown or leucistic appearance. Two year old and three year Nuttals retain some of their old faded brown juvenal plumage.

John Fulton

Date: Sun, 14 Mar 2004 20:54:29 -0800
From: <jgnielsen@...>
Subject: Re: Brown Nuttall's Woodpecker

I sent nearly this same message to people that inquired about the brown
Nuttall's Woodpecker and suggested some possible ID's. I thought I would see if
anyone else had thoughts on this bird. I wish that I could see the brown
woodpecker again. I heard drumming the next morning but was unable to find the
bird. It has not returned to the feeder. This bird was carrying seeds to a tree
and pounding
them open and then returning for another. I have never seen a Nuttall's at my
feeder before but they are common in my neighborhood. It made four trips to the
feeder in all. In answer to your list of possibles, I have seen Ladder-backed
Woodpecker only once and the individuals were not brown. Unfortunately I'm not
familiar enough with Ladder-backed to have noticed head pattern. I know the
sapsuckers well and this was not a sapsucker. I noted no white wing patch in
flight or while perched. The hybrid I can't speak to except that my location is
a long way from any range overlap where
one might expect hybrids This bird had a strongly barred back and no red patch
on the back of the head which made me think of female Nuttall's. The barred back
eliminated all but Nuttall's and Ladder-back in my thinking. I'm
very familiar with Nuttall's but not with Ladder-backed. The bird looked
familiar except for the brown color. Everywhere a Nuttall's would have been
black this bird was differing shades of brown. The white areas on this bird
were clear white not brownish.To give some comparison for the color the brown on
the head was much lighter than the brown on the Arizona Woodpecker in Sibley
Guide to Birds and the brown farther down the back was about the
brown color of that Arizona Woodpecker illustration. My thought was some kind
of genetic oddity of a Nuttall's Woodpecker? Any other Ideas? It's a bird that
makes even backyard birding a treasure hunt.
Gary Nielsen
Oroville, California

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