While only six woodpecker species can be reliably seen in Duval County, on 21 February 2016 Roger Clark and I observed a record seven species of them when we recorded a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers at Branan Field Mitigation Park.
Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-headed Woodpeckers are both a migrant and year-round species in Duval County. For instance, during migration they can be observed on Fort George Island but they are certainly not resident there. During migration, some observations occur at places like Reddie Point Preserve, Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island, or even Big Talbot Island State Park. In recent years, they can be seen regularly around the parking lot area at Reddie Point in September and October.
They are a also breeding species that was first documented as nesting on 6 September 1923 – a nest with young that late in the season (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). They have historically had a strong foothold throughout the Mandarin area of Jacksonville and stretching along San Jose Boulevard all the way to San Marco. They are also conspicuous in the Cecil Field Commerce Center on the westside of town and can be found at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center. On the southside, they are best found around the Jacksonville University campus and Pottsburg Creek. They are often gregarious nesters and are known to nest in trees or utility poles within mere yards of Merrill Road at the intersection of University Boulevard.
Historically they were reliable at Blue Cypress Park until about 2010 when they virtually disappeared. Since 2012, the most reliable spot to find them is in Boone Park in Jacksonville’s Riverside area. The park is roughly divided into two main sections, split by Herschel Street. Park near the end closest to St. Johns Avenue and Van Wert Avenue, and look for them among the many pine trees. If you make it to the tennis courts a couple blocks away, you’ve likely gone too far.
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are our most abundant woodpecker and can be found in equal numbers throughout the year, and regardless of what section of the county you’re in. They are frequent visitors to backyard feeders and will undoubtedly be encountered while birding or hiking any of our local parks or locations. Grimes noted three broods from one pair as far back as 24 September 1938; he also noted seasonal nesting as early as 31 March in 1944 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are non-breeding migrants and winter residents in Northeast Florida. They typically arrive in early October and remain through April, although they become increasingly difficult to find after March. They are best found in heavily wooded old growth forests and hammocks, so places like Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, Spanish Pond, Fort George Island, Reddie Point Preserve, Seaton Creek Preserve, and Cedar Point Preserve are all good locations to search for them. The oldest known report comes from 2 October 1942 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994) and Grimes noted perhaps the earliest fall arrival in county history on 30 August 1981 (Atherton & Atherton, 1982).
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Downy Woodpecker is our second-most abundant woodpecker, and like the Red-bellied they are frequent backyard visitors and can be found in most local parks. Listen for their distinct calls when out hiking any of the hotspots and you’ll be sure to find them. They are also a breeding species and have a consistent seasonal abundance year-round. Breeding records date back to 12 March 1926 when a pair was observed excavating a nest, and eggs collected on 12 April 1933 was noted as the earliest seasonal breeding in Florida at the time (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Hairy Woodpecker is an extremely rare species in Duval County, but is often over-reported by casual observers. There are just a handful of well-vetted observations in recent decades and until June 2015, not a single known photograph of a Hairy Woodpecker existed in the county.
Howell (1932, p. 311) refers to a specimen taken from Jacksonville, but unfortunately there are no further details of the account; not even a date. However, Grimes collected eggs on several occasions dating back to at least 13 April 1931 and reported hatchlings on 15 May 1944 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). On 26 May 1968, five were reported and noted by Stevenson and Anderson (1994) as the highest summer count in the State. In addition to these breeding accounts, the species showed up on the Christmas Bird Count in 1930, ’31, ’32, ’36, ’44, ’49-’53, ’56-’58, ’60-’79, ’83-’86, ’90, and 2002.
On 24 Jan 2006, Noel Wamer observed one at close distance at his home and noted it was the first he’d seen here in several decades of birding (Wamer, personal communication, n.d.). Then on 19 Apr 2009, I was birding with Roger Clark at Imeson Industrial Park when one passed directly over his head; like Wamer’s report, it is worth noting that this was Clark’s “county lifer” of the species – also after several decades of living and birding in the county. I unfortunately did not see that individual, but on 12 April 2013, Marie and I studied one at close distance at the Jacksonville Arboretum.
On 13 June 2015, Lane Booker did the near impossible – no, he didn’t photograph Sasquatch, but he did photograph a Hairy deep in the pine woods of Taye Brown Regional Park. On 21 Februrary 2016, Roger Clark and I recorded two at Branan Field Mitigation Park providing just the second verifiable record in the modern era. Shortly after reporting these two individuals on eBird, I heard from another local birder who saw two at Jacksonville Arboretum the same day! There are now at least three reports of the species there since 2011, suggesting the park is another remaining area they’re desperately clinging to.
While the species should absolutely be considered when in the field, you should also temper expectations, observe the bird very carefully, provide a detailed write-up, and please try to photograph it! Since they have apparently been extirpated as a breeding species decades ago, observations have plummeted and verifiable records are incredibly scarce.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker Picoides borealis
When I started birding in Jacksonville, there were only anecdotal reports and some speculation that this species occurred in Duval County within the Cary State Forest, which was unconfirmed but thought entirely possible – and likely. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are historically known to occur in the Forest, but it is unknown (or at least unreported) that their range within the forest extends into the county (the majority of Cary SF consists of Nassau County). Today, this is also the only known remotely suitable habitat in Duval County to search for them.
Once I began researching this book, I was a little shocked to learn that the species was once a fairly reliable breeding species in the county dating back to at least the early decades of the 1900’s (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). They were present on the Christmas Bird Counts in 1930, ’31, ’32, ’36, ’49, and two were reported on the 1960 count. I haven’t come across any reports since 1960 and I suspect that they simply succumbed to habitat loss as Jacksonville’s urban sprawl continued to raze their habitat.
Black-backed Woodpecker Picoides arcticus
Oberholser (1918) documented an interesting story of a Black-backed Woodpecker specimen collected in what “Mr. J.D. Allen, of Mandan, North Dakota” described as Pablo Creek around 20 March 1875. The specimen was described as an adult male in pristine plumage, but was “dilapidated” during the mounting process. Oberholser noted that the specimen never left Mr. Allen’s possession and that his recollection of the circumstances around the capture of the bird was “perfectly clear and conclusive”. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) acknowledge this story but mention the specimen bore no label and has not been accepted as valid. Indeed, there are no accepted reports or records of the species in Florida’s history.
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Northern Flicker is a species that has limited known breeding sites within Duval County and can be difficult to find during the summer. The first breeding record is from 21 July 1926 when Grimes located a nest with eggs (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). They are most often seen (or heard) beginning in October and are fairly regular through early spring. Known nesting areas include along the river and Arlington area, and places like Blue Cypress or Reddie Point Preserve can be excellent places to look for them. Fort George Island, Cedar Point Preserve, and Sheffield Park are also favorable.
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
Pileated Woodpeckers are another abundant breeding species of woodpecker and relatively easy to find in all seasons at places like Hanna Park, Seaton Creek, Pumpkin Hill Preserve SP, Fort George Island, and especially Theodore Roosevelt Area. They can also be found in heavily wooded areas across the westside of the county.
Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis
Stevenson and Anderson (1994) note a winter report from Duval County but there are no details beyond that. I imagine there’s a specimen taken from the area laying in a drawer somewhere that provoked the footnote, and unfortunately there are no other reports in the literature covered for this text.