Woodpeckers: Loud, Colorful, and Sometimes Surprisingly Big

Pileated Woodpecker in Gabriel Dumont Park Meewasin

There are seemingly endless array of animals to spot in the Meewasin Valley. Old friends like beaver, muskrat, and porcupines always seem to be hanging around. And in some parts of the valley, it’s hard to take a step without spotting a Leask Chipmunk or a squirrel.

While it’s always a treat to see any wildlife in the Valley, some just really stick out in the best possible way, like woodpeckers. You often hear them before you see them thanks to their constant knocking of holes in trees. Occasionally, they even show up in an extra-large size that is quite striking.

As always when looking for wildlife, there are a few things you should always keep in mind.

      • Be realistic. There are no guarantees in wildlife spotting and the animals you’re looking for may not be around.
      • Be respectful. This goes for the land, the other people around you, and especially the wildlife. It also means packing your trash out and not picking up “souvenirs” from the environment. Take a pic, don’t pick.
      • Be sensible. Keep a safe distance away from any and all wildlife.

Worldwide Woodpeckers

A Downy Woodpecker takes a break in Beaver Creek Meewasin
A Downy Woodpecker takes a break in Beaver Creek

There are more than two hundred species of woodpeckers found in different parts of the world, approximately 12 of which call Saskatchewan home. Most commonly, they’re spotted pecking away at the sides of trees in their search for food. They use their pointed beaks to take the bark off trees, then mine for insects underneath.

But that’s not the only reason for that practice. Woodpeckers often live in dead trees, creating holes inside of them for shelter. And during mating season, the loud sound of them knocking on the sides of trees is far more pronounced as it becomes a mating call.

The most common, or at least best known, woodpecker in the province is the Northern Flicker. While it can be spotted clinging to the sides of trees, it’s most often spotted on the ground eating ants. Because the Northern Flicker is predominantly a ground-feeder, some people don’t realize they’re looking at a species of woodpecker.

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Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is certainly a familiar and welcome site in and around Saskatoon. They pop up at backyard bird feeders with some frequency and are definitely regular residents of the Meewasin Valley. That includes more than a few sightings out at Beaver Creek.

A relatively small species of woodpecker, the Downy actually flocks up with other birds in winter for warmth and protection. Throwing another wrench into their sneaky behavior is the fact that they’ve even been spotted drinking from hummingbird feeders on occasion. Tricky.

Hairy Woodpecker

A Hairy Woodpecker sits on a tree in Victoria Park Meewasin
A Hairy Woodpecker sits on a tree in Victoria Park

It can be quite easy to confuse the Downy with its cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. The key difference is that the Hairy is quite a bit bigger than the Downy, though no less fascinating and adorable.

The Hairy Woodpecker has a much longer bill that can be described as “chisel-like.” It can also be found all around the Meewasin Valley, pecking at a variety of trees. That includes a few sightings right outside Meewasin’s downtown Saskatoon offices on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River or in nearby Victoria Park.

Pileated Woodpecker

When it comes to woodpeckers, it’s fair to say that this is the big one. Literally. Pileated Woodpeckers are nearly the size of a crow, which absolutely dwarfs any of its local relatives. It’s a huge bird with a beautiful red crest that takes chunks out of the sides of trees.

They can be found in various parts of Saskatchewan, including in and around the Meewasin Valley. Still, it’s a rarity to see one in person. A recent sighting found a Pileated Woodpecker just off the Meewasin Trail south of Gabriel Dumont Park.

NEXT: Check out different locations around the Meewasin Valley