Birds of Puerto Rico: Puerto Rican Woodpecker

With its pitch-black body and bright orange-red throat and breast, the Puerto Rican woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis) is quite a familiar sight forests, mangroves, parks, gardens and coffee plantations on the main island of Puerto Rico. The characteristic rat-a-tat-tat sound of its beak on tree trunks announces its presence as it drills holes in search of prey, such as beetle larvae and ants. The Puerto Rican woodpecker is endemic to the archipelago of Puerto Rico and is the only member of the Picidae family of birds found on the island.

In addition to its distinctive coloring, a distinguishing feature of the Puerto Rican woodpecker is a white patch that runs from eye to eye across its head above its beak. Its flanks and lower body are beige-orange in color, its beak is black and its legs are beige-brown. The female is duller in color and smaller than the male and the male’s beak is notably longer than the female’s.

They are fairly sociable and can be seen in groups during nonbreeding season, but become territorial during courtship and mating. Male woodpeckers carve cavities in trees and other suitable structures, such as wooden telephone poles, and the female lays between one and six eggs which are incubated for about two weeks before hatching. Both parents care for the hatchlings, continuing to feed them for a few weeks after they leave the nest.

In addition to insects and their larvae, the Puerto Rican woodpecker eats fruit and may occasionally eat geckos and coquís – the island’s iconic little frogs. It has been noted that other birds of Puerto Rico sometimes use old nesting cavities carved by Puerto Rican woodpeckers. These include the Puerto Rican flycatcher and the yellow-shouldered blackbird.

Be sure to keep an eye out, and an ear open, for the colorful Puerto Rican woodpecker when exploring the ‘Enchanted Island’ – Puerto Rico.