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Greater spotted woodpecker, with orange vent.

01/04/2008 11:58:00

Orange vented woodpecker, copyright Ray Atkin.

We have now received further information about the woodpecker with the orange vent. Ray Atkin, who took the photograph, has confirmed that the bird does definitely have an orange crown to match its vent.

Meanwhile Mike Toms, of the British trust for Ornithology, has pointed out that a similar bird was documented in Cambridgeshire last year. The BTO believe that the bird is exhibiting xanthochroism.

Birds can show this condition in one of two ways: either there is an excess of yellow in the plumage or the yellow replaces another colour (in this instance the red). The condition has been reported in a number of species, including other species of woodpecker (in North America), and in many instances the colour replaced is red.

Two Further Opinions
We also received communiques from two eminent 'Woodpeckerologists', their thoughts on the colouration are as follows.

Gerard Gorman, Author of 'Woodpeckers of Europe', said that, while it was difficult to tell from the photo, -

'It seems very strange to me that BOTH the nape patch and the vent are orange. If that really is the case (and not a trick of the light or of exposure, or whatever) then I am at a loss to say what could have caused this colouration. It is not unual to see Great Spotted Woodpeckers (and other Dendocopos species) with atypical, unusual, plumage (markings and shades of colour) but I have never seen one with orange rather than red.'

Steve Shunk, Author
Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America (to be published in spring 09).

'The red colouration on woodpeckers does not result from melanin, like the black or brown parts, and leucism is defined by a lack (but not a total absence of melanin). So, a leucistic bird may have brownish or generally pale feathers where it should have black feathers.

Instead, the red parts are coloured by caretinoids that the birds get from their foods (or that are naturally occurring in their environment somehow). Also, we believe some birds may be genetically predisposed to selecting out only certain amounts of caretinoids, resulting in a less-than-red coloration like this Greater Spotted woodpecker in the photo.'

Meanwhile, one of our readers, Brian Pearce, has made the following observation.

I have just seen the image and another remarkable thing was apparent; as I was scrolling the page using the centre wheel of my mouse, I could distinctly hear the muffled sound of the woodpecker.

Many thanks to Brian for that one!
This photo of a Greater-spotted woodpecker was sent to us by one of our readers, Ray Atkin.

Although not absolutely sharp, it can be clearly seen that this woodpecker has an orange vent (and possibly crown too) rather than the usual crimson.

The photo was taken in Yorkshire in December 2007, has anyone else seen this woodpecker?

Having received photos of four leucistic moorhens in the last 2 months, we are tempted to think that this might be a leucistic woodpecker. Please do let us know if you have a better explanation for this colouration.

Please email us with any further information you might have about this bird.

Our thanks to Ray Atkin for the photo.

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