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10 Fascinating Facts About the Ochre-backed Woodpecker

Birds are fascinating creatures. They come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, each with unique characteristics that distinguish them from one another.

In this article, we will be discussing the Ochre-backed Woodpecker or Celeus ochraceus. This bird belongs to the family Picidae, which includes all the world’s woodpeckers.

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker can be found in the Central and South American regions, specifically in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.


Field Identification

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker is a large bird that measures around 28 to 30 cm in length and weighs around 120 to 147 grams. It has a prominent, straight, chisel-like bill, which is used to dig holes in trees to find food.

They also have strong legs and feet that allow them to cling to trees and move around in a vertical position. The head and upper body of the bird are black with a yellowish-brown back and whitish underparts.

The male and female birds look alike; however, the male has a slightly larger bill.

Similar species

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker has a few similar species, including the Chestnut Woodpecker, which has a chestnut back instead of ochre, and the Lineated Woodpecker, which has a red crest on its head.


The Ochre-backed Woodpecker has two main plumages: the juvenile or immature plumage and the adult plumage. Juvenile birds have a brownish-black crown with white spots and buff or reddish-brown feathers on their mantle.

As they grow, their head and mantle gradually become completely black while their back becomes yellowish-brown. The adult bird’s underparts are creamy-white with black spots on their sides.


Molting is the process of shedding old feathers and growing new ones.

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker molts once a year, typically after breeding season.

During this process, they shed their old feathers and grow new ones.

Molting takes several weeks to complete, during which time the bird’s appearance may change significantly.


In conclusion, the Ochre-backed Woodpecker or Celeus ochraceus is a fascinating bird that can be found in Central and South America. They are distinguishable by their large size, straight bill, and black head with a yellowish-brown back.

They have two plumages; the juvenile or immature plumage and the adult plumage, and molting takes place once a year. Understanding these characteristics is helpful for bird enthusiasts and researchers interested in this bird species.

Systematics History

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker belongs to the family Picidae, which includes all woodpecker species found worldwide, and the order Piciformes, which includes other families of mainly hole-nesting birds such as toucans and barbets. The species was first described by British ornithologist Philip Lutley Sclater in 1870 based on specimens from the Andean foothills of Ecuador.

The scientific name Celeus ochraceus is derived from the Latin words Clus, meaning a kind of woodpecker, and ocraceus, meaning ochre or yellow ochre colored, referencing the bird’s distinctive coloration.

Geographic Variation

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker is distributed across a vast region of Central and South America and exhibits geographic variation in plumage and vocalizations. Birds from northern Venezuela, eastern Colombia, and western Ecuador have a grayish-brown tinge to their backs, while those from the eastern and central Andes have a brighter, tawny or ochraceous back.

The birds from the southern and eastern portions of their range have a darker brown back, and those from the Amazon basin have a more yellowish to ochreous rump. The species’ variation in tone and hue ensures that it blends well with the forest canopy in its respective geographic regions.


The Ochre-backed Woodpecker has several subspecies that are generally defined by their geographic distribution and subtle differences in morphology and vocalizations. The subspecies include Celeus ochraceus ochraceus, which occurs in northern Venezuela and eastern Colombia; Celeus ochraceus spectabilis, which occurs from eastern Colombia to eastern Ecuador; Celeus ochraceus ochraceus, albidior, which occurs in western Ecuador to extreme northwestern Peru; Celeus ochraceus ignotus, which inhabits southern and central Bolivia, northwestern Argentina, and southwestern Brazil; Celeus ochraceus ochraceus, xanthogenys, which occurs from extreme northwestern Peru to north-central Bolivia; and Celeus ochraceus clubmiyakei, which is found in eastern Paraguay and northeastern Argentina.

Most of these subspecies have only slight differences in plumage coloration and vocalizations, while others, such as Clubmiyakei, have a distinct song.

Related Species

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker belongs to the genus Celeus, which also includes several other species of woodpeckers found in Central and South America. Some species within the genus are close relatives of the Ochre-backed Woodpecker and can be difficult to distinguish from each other.

For example, the Chestnut Woodpecker (Celeus elegans), the Cream-colored Woodpecker (Celeus flavus), and the Cinnamon Woodpecker (Celeus loricatus) have similar patterns of black and brown plumage, but can be distinguished by their size, distribution, and vocalizations.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker has experienced significant historical changes to its distribution due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation. In the last century, many forests in Central and South America have been converted to agricultural land, degraded by human activities such as logging and mining, and fragmented by roads and urban development.

These changes have led to declines or local extinctions of Ochre-backed Woodpecker populations throughout their range, particularly in the more heavily populated areas such as northern Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. However, some populations have thrived in protected areas that provide suitable habitat, such as the Amazon basin.

Efforts to preserve and restore suitable habitat for the Ochre-backed Woodpecker and other forest species are essential for maintaining healthy bird populations in the region.

In conclusion, the Ochre-backed Woodpecker is a fascinating and widely distributed bird that exhibits geographic variation in plumage and vocalizations.

Understanding the bird’s subspecies and related species can be challenging due to subtle differences in morphology and vocalizations. The historical changes to the bird’s distribution due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation have led to a decline or local extinction in some areas.

However, conservation efforts aimed at habitat protection and restoration can help maintain healthy bird populations throughout the species’ range.


The Ochre-backed Woodpecker is most commonly found in dense, humid, and highly vegetated tropical forests, including both primary and secondary forests. They inhabit a range of altitudes across the Andes mountain range and adjacent lowland regions, from sea level to 2500 meters.

They prefer areas with tall trees, such as nutmeg and fig species, and regions with adequate sunlight levels for tree growth. They are often found in areas with high amounts of dead wood, where they can find nests and forage for insects.

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker can also be found in human-altered landscapes such as plantations and secondary growth forests, provided there is sufficient canopy coverage.

Movements and Migration

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker is not known to make long-distance regular migrations, as they are rather sedentary and juveniles may disperse short distances from their natal areas. However, there is limited information about the species’ movements and habitat use during non-breeding, non-reproductive periods.

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker is known to congregate in small groups during the non-breeding season, which may be associated with more abundant food resources. The size of the congregations suggests that there may be a degree of movement between breeding territories, but the extent of this movement is not fully understood.

It is also unclear whether these movements are related to seasonal food resources or habitat preferences. While the Ochre-backed Woodpecker is generally non-migratory, there have been anecdotal reports of individuals or small groups shifting away from heavily deforested areas.

This movement is thought to be a response to the loss of suitable habitat and resources necessary to support breeding and survival. Conservation efforts focused on habitat restoration could be effective in encouraging the return of these populations to these areas.

One factor that can influence habitat use and movement of Ochre-backed Woodpeckers is the presence of other bird species, particularly those that occupy similar ecological niches. For example, in some areas, the Southern Chestnut Woodpecker (Celeus meridionalis) and the Ochre-backed Woodpecker may occur in the same territories, and their interaction may influence the Ochre-backed Woodpecker’s movements and habitat use.

Interestingly, there is some variation among different Ochre-backed Woodpecker populations in their vocalizations, which may contribute to the species’ dispersal and movement. Vocalizations are often used for communication between birds, such as attracting mates or defining territorial boundaries.

The degree of vocal variation among populations could directly affect the extent of movements and dispersal by juvenile birds and their ability to establish a breeding territory in a new area.


In summary, the Ochre-backed Woodpecker is a sedentary bird that primarily inhabits tropical forests and related human-altered landscapes. The species inhabits a range of altitudes up to 2,500 meters above sea level, and they prefer areas with tall trees and available dead wood for foraging and nesting.

There is limited information regarding the species’ movements and non-breeding habitat use, though congregations during non-breeding season suggest there may be some degree of movement between breeding territories. The presence of other bird species may also play a role in determining habitat use and movements, and any shifts in movements or dispersal could impact vocal variation among different populations.

Understanding these dynamics is crucial for long-term conservation planning, particularly as habitat loss continues to pose a threat to the species’ survival.

Diet and Foraging


The Ochre-backed Woodpecker is a primarily insectivorous bird, which means that it feeds mainly on insects such as ants, beetle larvae, and termites. The bird has a unique foraging behavior and can often be observed pecking away at rough bark in search of its prey.

It would usually move along the trunk of a tree in an upward, spiral pattern, drumming rapidly on the bark while also extending its tongue, which can reach up to 7 cm in length, into the cracks and crevices to locate the insects. The bird’s hard, chisel-like bill is ideal for prying open bark to locate these prey items and scraping away the wood pulp to get to the insect nest.


The Ochre-backed Woodpecker’s diet primarily consists of arthropods, such as insects, beetles, ants, and termites. The quantity of each of these components of the diet and the importance of each varies with geography and time of the year.

Insects are an important source of protein and other nutrients for the bird. Ants, in particular, are favored by woodpeckers as they are abundant in most forested areas and are rich in protein, fat, and other essential nutrients.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Since the Ochre-backed Woodpecker is an active and powerful forager, it requires a significant amount of energy in its metabolism. Extreme temperature variations, such as those found in the high Andes, can impact the bird, but it has mechanisms for temperature regulation.

The bird has a high metabolic rate that allows it to regulate body temperature in extreme temperatures. It also has a relatively small body size and high surface-area-to-volume ratio, making it easier for it to dissipate heat.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Ochre-backed Woodpecker is a relatively vocal bird, with several distinct calls and songs, which are used for both communication and territorial defense. Males of the species are known to produce a complex, territorial call consisting of a series of short phrases consisting of fast, high, cackling notes.

This call is typically used to defend breeding territories or to attract a mate. The bird’s vocalizations can vary among different populations, particularly in isolated areas, due to the potential for genetic drift.

Another call produced by the bird is an alarm call, which is a quick, sharp, metallic tik or kip sound, typically given when the bird is startled or threatened. Other vocalizations produced by the Ochre-backed Woodpecker include contact calls, which are used to maintain contact between members of a small flock, and begging calls, which are given by young birds to request food from their parents.

In summary, the Ochre-backed Woodpecker’s diet primarily consists of insects, with a special preference for ants. The bird has a unique foraging behavior where it extracts its prey by pecking and scraping away wood pulp from tree bark.

The bird’s high metabolism, which allows it to regulate its body temperature in extreme temperatures, enables it to sustain its active and powerful foraging behavior. The bird is also relatively vocal, producing a range of calls and songs for communication and territorial defense.

Understanding the bird’s diet, foraging habits, metabolism, and vocalization patterns is vital in its conservation, particularly in the face of habitat loss and degradation, which impact both its availability of food and breeding territory.



The Ochre-backed Woodpecker has different modes of locomotion that enable it to move through different types of habitats. While moving through trees, the bird uses its strong feet to cling vertically to the trunk, using its tail for balance.

It can also hop from one trunk or branch to the next. When in flight, the bird has a distinctly undulating flight pattern with powerful wing beats followed by a brief gliding phase.

Self Maintenance

Like other woodpeckers, the Ochre-backed Woodpecker has a unique grooming behavior where it uses its bill to preen and clean its feathers. They also take dust baths, which help to remove excess oil from their feathers and maintain their plumage.

Dust baths are common behavior among forest birds and involve the bird rolling around in dust or sand to remove parasites, dirt, and excess oils from its feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

Agonistic behavior is a common behavior observed in birds, including the Ochre-backed Woodpecker. This behavior is related to aggression, which occurs when two males try to protect a territory or a resource such as a food source.

This may involve chasing, pecking, or performing territorial displays. Agonistic behavior is also associated with courtship displays, and males may engage in displays and calls to attract potential mates.

Sexual Behavior

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker is monogamous, meaning that males and females mate with only one partner during breeding seasons.

Breeding seasons are often closely associated with periods of food availability, with the timing and duration of the breeding season varying slightly by geographic location.

During the breeding season, males engage in courtship displays, which involve vocalizations and movements, to attract potential mates. Once paired, the couples will build a nest together, with the male usually excavating the hole while the female gathers nesting material.

The female lays between 2 to 4 eggs, which the pair will incubate for an average of 17 days. Upon hatching, the chicks are altricial, meaning that they are born without feathers and are dependent on their parents for food.

The young birds will fledge between 30 and 35 days, after which they will remain with their parents for a short period learning necessary skills before dispersing.


The Ochre-backed Woodpecker breeds annually in the breeding season, with breeding seasons’ timing and specifics varying by geographic location. When preparing to breed, male Ochre-backed Woodpeckers perform elaborate courtship displays to attract a female.

These displays include vocalizations, drumming, and movements that demonstrate the male’s fitness to the females. Once a female chooses a mate, they will choose a breeding site and begin constructing their nest.

The nest is typically located in a cavity excavated in a trunk or branch of a tree and tends to be relatively high above the ground.

Demography and Populations

The Ochre-backed Woodpecker’s populations are difficult to estimate effectively due to the species’ preference for habitats that are relatively inaccessible, making it hard to survey over large areas. Various factors, including habitat loss and fragmentation, negatively impact Ochre-backed Woodpecker populations.

In some areas, the bird’s populations have been reduced significantly, with some subspecies being threatened with extinction. Several conservation efforts have attempted to protect and restore the bird’s habitats, including creating and expanding protected areas and promoting sustainable land use practices.

Ongoing research, conservation efforts, and monitoring will be critical for the sustainable preservation of the Ochre-backed Woodpecker’s populations.

The Ochre-backed Wood

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