Surprising Similarities: What’s Going on in YOUR Backyard?

By Kim Kurki, author of World of Birds: A Beginner’s Guide


Anna’s hummingbirds will sip sap from holes drilled in trees by the sapsucker, a kind of woodpeckers. Illustration by Kim Kurki.

Did you ever think of hummingbirds and woodpeckers as similar? Until recently, I didn’t. Where I live in Eastern North America, Ruby-throated hummingbirds have been lapping up nectar from flowers in my garden and from my hummingbird feeder all summer. The tiny birds shimmer and glimmer, zoom and hover, buzz by my head and then disappear. The woodpeckers that frequent my yard are usually hopping up tree trunks, pecking and probing for insects. They only come to feeders in winter to eat suet and seeds, long after the hummingbirds have migrated. Besides forays into backyard feeders, how could they be alike?

The Gila woodpecker has a long tongue that enables it to drink the nectar from flowers (and even hummingbird feeders). Illustration by Kim Kurki.

The Gila woodpecker has a long tongue that enables it to drink the nectar from flowers (and even hummingbird feeders). Illustration by Kim Kurki.

Recently, I saw the unusual sight of a Downy woodpecker hanging on the hummingbird feeder. Was it plucking off ants attracted to the sugary water? After it left, I examined the feeder—no ants. Luckily the woodpecker returned. I watch as it put its bill into the plastic flowers on the feeder to lap up the liquid.

That’s when I remembered my research on the Gila woodpecker in Western North America for my book World of Birds. The Gila sips nectar from desert flowers and is attracted to hummingbird feeders in that part of the country. In fact, it is a common sight out there. With their long pointy bills and extra lengthy tongues, both of these birds can probe into a flower or feeder to lap up a sweet treat with ease.

Another connection between hummingbirds and woodpeckers I recalled was about the Anna’s hummingbird, also found in the west. It will sip seeping sap (say that 3 times fast!) from holes drilled in a tree by a sapsucker, a kind of woodpecker. So both birds, although not having a “sweet tooth,” have a “sweet tongue”!

Has anyone else seen unusual combinations of birds at their feeders? I’d love to hear your weird bird stories.

About the Author

Kim Kurki has been fascinated by nature since childhood. Working as an artist for more than 30 years, she has focused on the natural world, including illustrations for The Old Farmer’s Almanac and National Wildlife Federation’s Your Big Backyard magazine. She lives in Penns Park, Pennsylvania where she is lulled to sleep at night by hooting owls.

Get your copy of Kurki’s latest book, World of Birds: A Beginner’s Guide.

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