A brilliant red crest that sweeps from the crown to the nape gives the helmeted woodpecker its name (2)(3). The face of this elusive bird is mostly cinnamon, except for the pale red malar patch of the male (2). While the lower back, wings and tail are black, the rump is white, and the underparts are pale cream with conspicuous blackish bars (2)(3). In common with all woodpeckers, the helmeted woodpecker has strong leg muscles, two forward and two backward pointing toes, and stiffened tail feathers that together enable it to hold itself upright on tree trunks (4).
Very little has been reported on the biology of the helmeted woodpecker, but it is known to forage primarily in the middle storey and nest from September through to October (2).
Like all woodpeckers, insects probably form a large component of the helmeted woodpecker’s diet (3)(4). The highly extendable and slightly barbed tongue of the woodpecker is coated with a sticky secretion that aids in catching insect prey (4).
The helmeted woodpecker is believed to have undergone a dramatic population decline due to deforestation and the fragmentation of suitable habitat (2). Indeed there were long periods from the 1950s to the 1980s, when sightings of this species were few and far between (3). Fortunately, recent field studies indicate that the helmeted woodpecker might not be as rare as previously thought. Nonetheless, ongoing habitat loss and competition for resources with other more abundant woodpecker species, which may be more tolerant of disturbance, remains a cause for concern (2)
The helmeted woodpecker is protected by Brazilian law, and occurs within numerous protected areas throughout its range, with Iguazú National Park in Argentina, Iguaçu National Park in Brazil, and San Rafael National Park and Mbaracayú Forest Nature Reserve in Paraguay, all likely to support large populations. To clarify the distribution and conservation status of this species, the aim is to conduct thorough population surveys at existing and historical localities. In addition, there are hopes that areas of suitable habitat that receive protection will be increased (2).
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