Red-headed Woodpecker

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Gary R. Graves, Ph.D.

Dr. Gary Graves had an early childhood fascination with birds that eventually led him to his role as curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History.

Photo by Don Hurlburt, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Gary Graves is a research zoologist and curator of birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where his research focuses on the ecology, biogeography, and evolution of birds. His early childhood fascination with birds led to graduate studies at Louisiana State University and Florida State University: "I am unapologetically curious about natural history and the ways that natural history observations catalyze important ecological and evolutionary discoveries." His dissertation work focused on speciation of birds in the Andes Mountains of Peru. He has also conducted fieldwork in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Polynesia, Canada, and in more than half the states in the USA. His current research efforts are split between the analysis of complex data sets based on the collective resources of the World's great museums and conducting field research in Jamaica, the great forests of the eastern USA, and in the Sonoran Desert.

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This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist installing nest box to help Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis)
Courtesy of John and Karen Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, public domain


About Woodpeckers and Relatives (Order Piciformes): Nesting

Piciformes nest in holes called cavities, but how they get the cavities varies. Woodpeckers and some barbets use their sharp bills to chisel out their own cavities in trees. Jacamars and puffbirds tend to dig nesting cavities in softer ground or dirt banks. Toucans colonize old woodpecker cavities or other tree holes, rather than excavate their own. Honeyguides hijack the nests of other birds, laying one egg per nest that will yield a honeybird hatchling that may kill the host hatchlings. Regardless, piciformes tend to have large bills adapted for gouging into things. All piciformes have a special foot with two toes facing forward and the other two backward (zygodactylous), in contrast to the usual bird arrangement of three forward and one backward. Piciformes can often be spotted climbing vertically up and down tree trunks.