Species Profile: Magellanic Woodpecker

Walk through the southern beech forests of Chilean Patagonia and listen closely for a reverberating “toc toc toc.”  That’s the pecking of the largest known woodpecker in South America, the Magellanic Woodpecker. These birds, endemic to austral temperate forests, are extremely territorial: they claim their territories with sounds, most commonly knocking their beaks against trees.  Check out the fascinating video below about BBC’s David Attenborough’s encounter with a woodpecker duo, fighting for their territory.

As you can see from the video, Magellanic Woodpeckers (Campephilus magellanicus are beautiful and easily recognizable birds. The males have mostly black bodies with a bright crimson head and crest. The females lack the red head and crest, but do have a bit of red at the base of their beaks and a curled crest. The sexual dimorphism in this species also involves attributes such as bill size and feeding preferences: females mostly forage on small substrates such as twigs and high branches while males tend to eat trunks and large branches.

These woodpeckers often travel with their mate or in a family group of about three to five birds. Magellanic Woodpecker mates are monogamous and share equal roles when breeding: both excavate nests, incubate eggs, brood, clean nests, and feed nestlings. Most nests are hollowed out in trees and the common clutch size is just one egg. If the couple produces two eggs, generally only one will nest successfully.  Offspring usually stay with the family group for up to two years and are fed by their parents during this period.

The Magellanic Woodpeckers are the only woodpecker in its range, resulting in little intraspecific competition. However, these woodpeckers do compete with Austral Parakeets, along with a few other birds, for sap. They feed on sap flowing from pecked trees, along with grubs, beetles, eggs, spiders, fruit, smaller species’ nestlings and small vertebrates. Insects make up the majority of their diet– their genus, Camepephilus, does mean “lover of grubs,” after all.

To forage, these birds mostly peck and excavate from both live and decayed trees. If you listen closely to the tapping and pecking of a Magellanic Woodpecker, you can tell when the bird is feeding. The tapping associated with feeding is variable in intensity, frequency, and duration. This is opposite to the communicative pecks, which are deliberate and repetitive. Pecking and tapping on trees is not the only means of communication for these birds though. They also have various vocalizations including various nasal notes. These vocalizations are used to attract mates, to communicate movement amongst families, and to scare off predators.

Spread across the Andes of Chile, Southwestern Argentina and Tierra del Fuego Island, the Magellanic Woodpecker is the southernmost distributed woodpecker. They thrive in old growth and undisturbed forests. Changes in structural forest components after timber extraction, forest conversion, and fragmentation are the main threats to this species. In fact, the Ivory-billed and Imperial woodpeckers, two very similar species to the Magellanic woodpecker, are extinct or near extinction due to habitat modification and overhunting. Luckily, the unique Magellanic woodpecker is protected from hunting in both Chile and Argentina.

Magellanic Woodpeckers are an extremely important species in the future Patagonia National Park. They act as keystone habitat modifiers within this region. The large holes they create while feeding and nesting in trees are eventually abandoned and then provide nesting, roosting, hiding and feeding sites for other birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. We hope Magellanic Woodpecker will prosper in the future Park, and that generations of bird lovers will walk through the forests, listening for that signature tapping.


6 thoughts on “Species Profile: Magellanic Woodpecker

  1. Saturday April 7th, 2012 at 05:43 PM

    Absolutely stunning bird! The film is wicked, wish we had tried that stone trick! Poor old woodpeckers, looked very annoyed!

  2. Jorge Pavez I.
    Thursday April 12th, 2012 at 01:40 PM

    Les agradeceriá me enviaran noticias sobre su emprendimiento, estaré muy agradecido.

  3. Victor Vidal Echeverría
    Tuesday June 5th, 2012 at 04:36 PM

    Excelente ficha de información del pájaro carpintero, sin embargo me gustaría saber si se esta instaurando algún proyecto o programa para conservarlo, por que sabemos que en la zona sur austral se encuentra en estado vulnerable, y acá en el sur, de donde soy yo, esta en peligro.
    Yo soy estudiante de Ingeniería Forestal Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia y tengo una asignatura en la cual se nos pidió crear un proyecto faunistico para alguna especie en peligro, a mi me encantaría trabajar con el carpintero negro en los alrededores de la ciudad, por lo mismo les escribo para ver si ustedes tienen algo ya realizado como para yo tener una idea de que es lo principal para poder conservarlo ( ya sea educación a personas de los alrededores con respecto a este, preocupación y mayor control con las empresas forestales, etc) espero su respuesta y de antemano muchas gracias.

  4. Saturday September 29th, 2012 at 02:59 AM

    Really works by the way – – – we took a break from running whilst in the temperate rainforest nearby Valle Chacabuco, and tried out Sir Davids method, incredible views of a female who came to share my tree!! see here http://www.5000mileproject.org/2012/09/we-can-talk-to-birds-really/
    Thank you from a very happy http://www.5000mileproject.org running team!!!!

  5. Pamela Raffo
    Monday October 13th, 2014 at 02:57 AM

    Muy estimados,
    Soy editora externa de Editorial Pearson Chile y en estos momentos estamos realizando unas correcciones solicitadas por el Ministerio de Educación para el texto escolar Ciencias Naturales 3° Básico. Entre ellas, nos han solicitado incluir una fotografía del carpintero negro. Al respecto quisiera consultarles si nos sería posible incluir unas de sus fotografías en nuestro texto y si existe algún requerimiento que debiéramos cumplir.
    Agradezco de antemano su pronta respuesta.
    Un cordial saludo,
    Pamela Raffo

  6. Roberto Delgado
    Thursday January 29th, 2015 at 10:17 PM

    Supongo que es un error que nadie vio, los carpinteros no se alimentan de ramas ni troncos!!!
    Comen larvas que sacan con su larga lengua una vez perforada la corteza del arbol que atacan. porfavor tengan mas cuidado con sus articulos!

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