The Bird Meme: Day 3

Day 3: Your favorite genus

Melanerpes

For those of you who don't play the taxonomy game very often, I'll just note that a genus is the category of organisms one level more general than a species. In other words, a genus will (almost always) contain a number of different species that resemble one another in certain ways, but which do not (for the most part) interbreed. (The fact that there are so many qualifications in that statement is an indication of just how shaky the concept of "species" is among working biologists.) There's usually more than one genus (plural genera) in a family, and multiple families within an order, and so on up the old King Philip Came Over From Greater Spain mnemonic.

I could just pick a genus based on my single favorite bird species, but realistically, those genera which contain several of my favorite species get a leg up here. It's kind of a song vs. album question; my favorite Elvis Costello song is probably "Man Out of Time" from Imperial Bedroom, but there are so many great songs on King of America that I'd have to rate the latter as my favorite EC record.

Thus, however much I may love the Black Skimmer or the Tricolored Heron, I have to go with the genus that contains multiple awesome species, and that means woodpeckers. The improbable and beautiful overspecialization of woodpeckers makes them alternately amusing, astonishing, and even a bit poignant, if you're the kind of person who, like me, worries about deforestation; let's face it, as trees go, so go the woodpeckers. That said, there are spectacular birds in the family Picidae, and though some may go for the genera that contain Europe's Great Green Woodpecker (Picus) or the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus), I've got to go with Melanerpes on the strength of these American beauties:

*Red-headed Woodpecker: thanks to its bold but classic combination of black plumage set off by a scarlet head and white belly & rump, I'm always happy to see one.
*Red-bellied Woodpecker: the familiar woodpecker of my Southern homeland, filling the woods with its friendly chad call and showing off its ladder-patterned back (see below).
*Acorn Woodpecker: a stunning, clownish face done up in red, canary, and black, with a sociability and hoarding habit that make its actions a delight to watch.
*Lewis's Woodpecker: a honking great improbability of red, pink, and forest green. You haven't seen anything quite like this.

I still haven't seen the Gila or Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, the other two North American members of the genus, but I'm confident that when I finally do, I won't be disappointed.

May & June 2009 008.jpg

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 12, 2017 5:21 PM.

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