Red-headed Woodpecker Flight

I have repeatedly harped since I started this blog about taking the time to read and reread your favorite field guide. And I have repeatedly stated that I wished I would follow my own advice. That has to change since I once again learned something I would have known if I had paid attention to my field guide. A Red-headed Woodpecker flight looks an awfully lot like a Blue Jay in flight.

First the flying Red-headed Woodpecker. Leaving the local park a week ago I saw a bird flying from the park across a plowed corn field. It was headed to trees a quarter-mile away on private land. At first glance I assumed the bird was a Blue Jay since they are numerous at the park. And the flight was like any Corvid – straight and direct.

But something wasn’t right. Every time the bird moved its wing the white on the under-wing was more than it should have been. More like a Red-headed Woodpecker. But woodpeckers have an undulating flight. Correct?

And this is where the field guide comes in to play. If I had paid closer attention to Red-headed Woodpecker in my Sibley’s Guide I would have noticed the one insert by the top photo – “flight steady and jay-like, with rowing wing-beats”.

rhwo-sibley-a Red-Headed Woodpecker Flight
I have highlighted in yellow the line I should have picked up years ago about a Red-headed Woodpecker flight. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America
Now compare the Red-headed Woodpecker’s flight photo to the Blue Jay. Not much difference except the large white under-wing. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America

I was driving and never had the chance to stop and confirm the bird’s ID. When I finally had the chance to turn down the side road by the of trees I noticed they were the preferred habitat of Red-headed Woodpeckers – Pin Oaks. Something else I hadn’t noticed previously.

Have I been misidentifying Red-headed Woodpeckers in flight? I don’t think so. There are too few of them and the flashing white under-wing patch is distinctive.

I didn’t count the Red-headed Woodpecker since I wasn’t 100% sure. But it will give me another thing to check out over the next couple of weeks.

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