Well-named …. or not??

Why do so many people see this delightful bird and think it must be a Red-headed Woodpecker? Because it has a red head, right?! But lots of woodpeckers have red on their heads – see similar species on All About Birds.

As eBird will tell you, the Red-bellied Woodpecker “is not well-named; rarely is the slight red wash on the belly visible!” (ebird.org). This male’s red belly is well-hidden by the Spanish moss and the branch he’s clinging to.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, there are over 20 species of woodpeckers in North America, but the Red-bellied is almost exclusively seen only from the plains states to the east coast (WhatBird). To hear and read more about the charming Red-bellied Woodpecker, check out this episode of Bird Note!

34 thoughts on “Well-named …. or not??

  1. I remember thinking this species had to be a Red-headed Woodpecker, until I actually saw a Red-headed Woodpecker that is distinctly different from the Red-bellied Woodpecker. I have given up trying to figure out the illogical names of some species–when in doubt, I like to make up my own names. 🙂

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    • Yes, thanks David! Those are great examples of birds whose names don’t really seem to match their actual coloring. Granted, the Red-bellied actually does have a pale red belly – though it’s usually obscured by whatever the bird is climbing on.

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  2. Great photo!
    I heard once that the reason so many birds have names based on traits you can’t see while birding (sharp-shinned hawk immediately comes to mine) is that ornithologists named them from specimens in the lab — dead birds lying on their backs. You have to wonder where their common sense was.

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  3. Sometimes it happens that the most obvious characteristic of a bird has been previously used and has to be accommodated to fit all other names. It happens to us when you want to subscribe on an Internet list and the as for your name, you write it and they say your name had been used already. So you have to make certain changes in order to get on with it. It hasn’t happen to you?
    Lovely photo, Carol. 🙂

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  4. As you said, like most people, I wouldn’t have known this isn’t a red-headed woodpecker. What’s confusing to people who haven’t devoted time to looking at birds—and probably to some who have—is that members of a species can have a bunch of appearances that depend on age, sex, and breeding.

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  5. Yeah, I often hear folks misidentifying this one. I’ve always gone under the assumption the Red-headed Woodpecker was named first leaving the labelers to come up with something else for this one. Causes confusion, but at least both species are beautiful birds. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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