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White-headed woodpecker.jpg
White-headed woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
Subfamily: Picinae
Tribe: Dendropicini
Genus: Picoides
Lacépède, 1799

See text.

Picoides is a genus of woodpeckers (family Picidae) found primarily in North America. The plumage in most species is predominantly black and white, brown and white in some southern species, with the male often having a red (or yellow) badge. Their bills are straight and chisel-shaped. Although in the four-toed species, the toes normally have a zygodactyl or yoked arrangement while on the ground, one toe can be rotated forward for climbing. Some species in this genus are three-toed. All species in this genus feed mainly on insects.


The genus is in need of revision. Two species which have a somewhat different color pattern, especially on the head and neck - the striped and the checkered woodpecker - have turned out to belong in Veniliornis, a genus most closely related to Picoides. On the other hand, the smoky-brown woodpecker (Picoides fumigatus) seems to be an early offshoot of Picoides. Its unique coloration (similar to the unrelated Okinawa woodpecker) would be an adaptation to dense forest habitat, although due to its distinctiveness it is not inconceivable that it belongs into a genus of its own and merely is a case of molecular convergence. The American three-toed woodpecker was until recently considered conspecific with the Eurasian one (Sibley & Monroe 1990), and the lesser spotted woodpecker is often placed in the genus Dendrocopos[citation needed]. Indeed, that genus is sometimes merged into Picoides, but this is neither generally accepted nor well supported.

Analysis of mtDNA COI and Cyt b sequences suggests that Picoides is really three genera (Moore et al., 2006). One is a group of small four-toed species and the Eurasian P. minor, whereas the other group unites the larger species and would include the smoky-brown woodpecker. The three-toed species consititute a different lineage closer to some species of Dendrocopos.

All three groups are notable for the high degree of convergent evolution in plumage patterns existing between them (Weibel & Moore, 2005; Moore et al., 2006). There are several pairs of species from different groups which are almost alike; the most notable example is the downy and hairy woodpeckers, which are not closely related but independently evolved a plumage pattern that is identical down to minor details.


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