The downy woodpecker is the smallest of Georgia’s eight woodpecker species and the most common visitor at backyard feeders in winter. WOLFGANG WANDER/CREATIVE COMMONS

Winter is best time to see woodpeckers

The best time for watching some of Georgia’s most interesting and colorful birds — the woodpeckers — is from now until early spring. They tend to show up at backyard feeders during the cold months more than at any other time of year, especially if the feeders offer woodpecker-preferred foods such as suet.

Georgia has seven year-round woodpecker species — pileated, red-bellied, red-headed, red-cockaded, downy and hairy woodpeckers, and the northern flicker. The red-cockaded, an endangered species, lives in small colonies in old-growth piney woods in South Georgia.

Georgia also is home during winter to an eighth woodpecker species, the migratory yellow-bellied sapsucker. It gouges small holes, or “sap wells,” in hardwoods during winter to collect sap and lure insects.

By far the most common woodpecker coming to feeders during winter is the smallest, the little downy woodpecker. A sparrow-size, black-and-white bird (males have a distinctive red patch on the back of the head), the downy often joins mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches and other small birds during the cold season.

The second most common woodpecker at winter feeders is the red-bellied with its strikingly barred back and gleaming red cap. Its equally gorgeous cousin, the red-headed woodpecker, sports the only completely red head. It comes occasionally to feeders.

The other woodpecker species also may visit feeders from time to time. A rare visit from a pileated woodpecker is breathtaking: With its flaming red crest and and 16-19-inch length, it’s Georgia’s largest and showiest woodpecker.

To entice woodpeckers this winter, offer suet, black oil sunflower seeds and shelled peanuts in feeders with lots of perching space.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer:

The Leonid meteor shower is expected to reach a maximum of 20 meteors per hour on Sunday night. Best viewing: In the northeast after midnight.

The moon will be last-quarter on Tuesday. Venus is very low in the west just after dark and sets shortly thereafter. Mars is low in the east just before dawn. Jupiter is low in the southwest around dusk and sets shortly thereafter. Saturn is low in the south just after dark and sets in the west about three hours later.

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