Friday, November 14, 2014

My Year of Darwin 11/14/2014: Those crazy woodpeckers

 Charles Darwin

"Can a more striking instance of adaptation be given than that of a woodpecker for climbing trees and for seizing insects in the chinks of the bark? Yet in North America there are woodpeckers which feed largely on fruit, and others with elongated wings which chase insects on the wing; on on the plains of La Plata, where not a tree grows, there is a woodpecker, which in every essential part of its organisation, even in its colouring, in the harsh tone of its voice, and undulatory flight, told me plainly of its close blood-relationship to our common species; yet it is a woodpecker which never climbs a tree." Charles Darwin, Origin of Species 1st edition (on Kindle)

I'm not sure what species Darwin is referring to (hey, Pinker told me it's OK to end with a preposition). I suspect the fruit eating is the Red-bellied Woodpecker (damn, no picture) or the Acorn Woodpecker. The flycatching woodpecker completely baffles me but might be the Red-headed Woodpecker (damn, no picture). Those three species are in the genus Melanerpes. As for the woodpecker of La Plata, it might be Colaptes melanchloros - a member of a group I'll just call the flickers. Not that surprising that a member of that group is terrestrial since our flicker here on the US east coast is often found on the ground eating ants. Here's a nice video of that species. 


  1. Convergent evolution also comes to mind with adaptations for "climbing trees and for seizing insects in the chinks of the bark" given Sitta, Certhia, Salpornis, Hypositta, Cormobates, Climacteris, and Rhabdornis. Did I miss any there? 8-P

  2. The dozens of Neotropical woodcreeers from Glyphorynchos to Nasica to, my favorite, Campylorhamphus - an awesome array of bills.