Twelve of you responded with six species: six imm Red-headed Woodpecker, one Ivory-billed Woodpecker, one Red-cockaded Woodpecker, one Red-breasted Nuthatch, two Belted Kingfisher, and one Blue Jay. My thoughts were Eastern Bluebird. See below.


Dear Dave,


Thanks for your email on the blue-headed woodpecker that your grandfather used to talk about. It took me a minute to decide how to interpret what your grandfather said, but, I believe I have a perfect answer finally. This doesn’t happen very often. 


Common names are many for the same species of bird, so, scientist, as I am sure you know, developed the one-name one-species system of naming birds and now use both a unique Latin name for scientist and a unique English name for lay folks such as bird watchers and scientists too. Common names are different from English names in that there is only one designated English name per species (at least in North America.)


So, The blue-headed woodpecker is actually the Eastern Bluebird. Due to the excellent observational powers of your grandfather he observed them entering and leaving holes in trees and spending time in the nesting cavities. He probably assumed that the bluebird had excavated the cavity, not realizing that it was a cavity borrowed from the woodpecker who excavated the hole.


It also follows well that the ice storms wiped out the local populations of Eastern Bluebirds many times throughout history in Missouri and elsewhere in the bluebirds range. Below is an excerpt from “Sialis” A history of the eastern bluebird and bluebirding which refers to all the documented ice storms and severe spring weather that has devastate the bluebird population over the years.  


Climate plays an important role in short term bluebird population declines - e.g., winter freezes in the South in 1895-96, 1939-40, 1950-51, 1957-58, and severe winters in 1976-77 and again in 1977-78. Bluebirds caught in severe weather without protected roosting locations and sources of liquid water may perish. They may also starve to death if typical winter food sources are gone (e.g., stripped by starlings) or unavailable (e.g., covered by freezing rain/snow.) It's not just a winter weather issue. Bluebirds that have migrated North to breed may get caught in severe late spring storms. Hurricanes or severe cold weather in the peak or late part of the breeding season can impact populations. Time to recovery is increased if preexisting populations were already low. Droughts can influence food supply and hatch and survival rates.


I hope this resolves your question, it makes complete sense to me, although I had never contemplated the blue-headed woodpecker name in such a light before.  Thank you for the new bit of informationfor me. I will make an inquiry on the Missouri Birder listserv to see if some others have already heard of the blue-headed woodpecker.





From: Missouri Wild Bird Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Brad Jacobs
Sent: Tuesday, January 05, 2010 9:59 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Blue-headed woodpeckers seen in Missouri - a quiz


I received a public inquiry by email about what someone’s grandfather said. He said that there used to be blue-headed woodpeckers in Bollinger County until a big ice storm killed them all off. And he said they haven’t been seen since.  Grandfather (1893-1977) was a great woodsman according to his grandson.


Does anyone know what species this might be?  Include a brief rational for your decision.  This is a fun quiz, there is no test next period.


 I have convinced myself that I have it figured out finally. Just checking with the many authorities on MObirds-l.  I will post the results when I am overwhelmed with emails. Thanks.






Brad Jacobs

Missouri Department of Conservation

P.O.Box 180

Jefferson City , MO 65102

573-751-4115 ext 3648


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